Adventures at Lost Lake, Oregon

Adventures at Lost Lake, Oregon from Margaret Emerson on Vimeo.

My teen daughter, Skye, and I are on a road trip to the coast of Oregon. My husband joined us mid-way through the trip to enjoy a bit of the mountains and coast with us. We’ve spent close to a week in the Hood River Valley, south of Hood River, Oregon, at a vacation rental with a front-and-center view of Mt. Hood, one of Oregon’s active (but dormant) volcanoes.

When my husband Dave and I first visited this part of Oregon a couple of years ago in the fall, we were enchanted by the rolling green hills filled with orchards and fruit farms. Back then, we barely were able to catch a glimpse of the dramatic volcano that presides over the valley due to low clouds and near constant drizzle. We enjoyed the infamous Fruit Loop and ate the sweetest and juiciest pears and apples we’d had in a while, sometimes straight off the tree. We walked through flower fields that were already starting to wither at the end of their season. We wondered what it would be like to come to this valley in mid-summer, when berries and cherries were in season and the views of Mt. Hood were easier to come by.

Since we arrive July 3, and for the next 10 days, the forecast is pure sunshine and zero chance of rain, so views of Mt. Hood have been constant.

Yesterday we spent the day at Lost Lake, where we rented a rowboat and flittered around the lake all afternoon, fishing and relaxing. The trout were reticent about biting, but Dave did manage to catch one. I got a few nibbles on my bait, but that’s about it. Later, after we returned the boat, we fished some more on the shore, where the water was brilliantly clear and surprisingly not too cold for wading. I spotted what looked like a small fish but turned out to have arms and legs. A salamander! There were quite a few of them gliding through the water and they were easy to spot against the lighter colored gravel below. Skye was excited about catching one (she’s a kid at heart, even now), so we devised a plan using a ziploc bag.

Later, I Googled it and found out that we caught a Columbia Torrent salamander, a rather small-ish variety that is aquatic and prefers cold, clear lakes and streams (bingo)!

We also watched as ospreys hunted for fish above the lake, diving and soaring, diving and soaring, until one succeeded in catching a trout right in front of us. It was just the kind of day that’s perfect for the whole family – lots of wildlife to look at for the kids at heart, and comforting peace and fresh air for the old folks.

Chakras, Yoga and Hiking

Chakras and Hiking from Margaret Emerson on Vimeo.

Yoga therapist, Sharon Alexander, and I went on a short walk along the Bobolink trail in south Boulder to demonstrate how to be mindful of the energy of your chakras while hiking. Even though the terminology is different, the concepts behind the earth, water and fire chakras are very similar to the concepts in the chapter about masculine and feminine energy in my book, Contemplative Hiking Along the Colorado Front Range.

Masculine energy is about doing, striving, achieving. It is goal-oriented and direct. Feminine energy is about being, feeling, experiencing, sensing and receiving. If one’s energy is out of balance, problems can occur. Too much masculine energy in life can create burn out, as Sharon points out. Too much feminine energy can perpetuate a stuck state, or an inability to create inertia for change.

When you’re hiking, notice your energy. Are you focused on the goal, the summit, the point on the map that you’ve assigned yourself? Are you enjoying the moment or concerned about the end result of your hike? Are you dropping down into your feelings or are you checking off lists in your mind? This exercise isn’t meant to create judgement about what energy you’re projecting, only an observation. If you’re feeling burned out, you may consider balancing your energy with more feeling and sensing. Slow down, sink into your senses, don’t worry about how far you’re walking or how to elevate your heartrate. Use the yoga poses shown in the video to be mindful of your body.

If you’re frustrated by your lack of focus in life, and you’re feeling stuck, you may need to ramp up your energy and become more task-oriented. Set a goal for yourself for the hike (distance, time, destination) and achieve it. Balance is key.


Tips for Getting Unstuck and Overcoming the Blues

Tips for Getting Unstuck and Overcoming the Blues with Hiking from Margaret Emerson on Vimeo.


There are days when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? You feel totally uninspired, blah, and you can’t seem to conjure up any motivation or enthusiasm about the future. The days ahead seem like a slog, and you wonder what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. It’s particularly bad if I can’t even look forward to the weekend, when I’m supposed to be enjoying my life and spending time with my family.

These feelings are often temporary for me. I know that if I just sit with the feeling, eventually I will feel better. Perhaps later that evening, or the next day. Often, within a few days. But sometimes the feeling persists and I know that I have to do something to get myself out of the funk. But what?

The advice experts offer on how to beat the blues, or mild depression, involves getting enough sleep, getting adequate exercise, proper nutrition, time with friends and quiet time spent in nature. Time spent outside has many health benefits besides offering invigorating exercise—you get a dose of vitamin D, which most people don’t seem to get enough of these days, a condition that has been linked to depression.

Time spent in nature isn’t just good for curing the blues. It has been shown to improve creativity and some cognitive function, according to a study undertaken by the University of Utah and the University of Kansas psychology departments. This study was performed with subjects who had been hiking in the wilderness for four days, and it’s unclear whether the benefits stem from an immersion in nature or from the removal of technology (phones, computers, cars, sirens, alarms).

The soft focus, or what researches call “soft fascination” on the natural world (as experienced through hiking) is soothing, and brings us back to a kind of default state of mind where introspection, creativity and clearer cognitive functioning occur. It can be a kind of “reset” button to our state of mind, especially if we feel overwhelmed, stressed, or stuck in negative thinking.

This study also validates my belief that the last thing I, or anyone else for that matter, should be doing when we’re not feeling all that great is to sit around surfing the internet or watching TV.


Excuses Keep Us Stuck

When I’m feeling down, I’m really not in the mood to do the very things I should do, which is to socialize or get outside to exercise or hike. More likely I will sit at home by myself, moping, napping, reading, or surfing the internet. Depression inertia is difficult to overcome.

What excuses do you use that are keeping you stuck at home and feeling down? That it’s too cold outside? That it’s too far to drive to go hiking, and you don’t feel like sitting in the car? That you’re too tired? Don’t want to go alone and have no one to go with?

Yeah, those are all excuses I’ve used, too. But here’s the thing. When I do kick myself in the butt and actually get out there on the trail, I feel so much better afterward. I’m so glad I went, even if it’s cold, wet, snowy, whatever. In fact, some of the best hikes I’ve had have been in inclement weather or uncomfortable conditions, simply because the intensity of the experience adds to the feeling of aliveness and adventure.

3 Tips for Getting Un-Stuck and Relieving the Blues

Consider doing these three things the next time you’re feeling a bit depressed and you know you should get outside, spend time in nature, and invigorate yourself with exercise and fresh air.

1. Prepare the equipment you’ll need the night before, or at a moment when you’re feeling a little more motivated. Take out your daypack, fill up your water bottle, and set this next to your hiking boots by your front door. Simply the act of getting ready for the hike, even if you’re not going until the next day, will increase the likelihood you’ll actually go.

2. Put your hike on your to-do list or calendar for the day. Set the alarm to go off and remind you. Tell yourself that you intend to go, and set a specific time that you’ll leave the house or the office. The more specific you are about when you will be going and where, the harder it will be to blow it off.  Make arrangements to get to work a little later or to leave earlier if you have to. Your mental health is important! I doubt anyone has ever invented anything or produced anything of value when they’re depressed.

3. Tell someone you plan on going on a hike. Perhaps they’ll want to join you, and that will offer you more social time with a friend, or alleviate your worry about going alone. Whenever I have a goal in mind, I make it a point to announce that goal and intention to as many people as possible. (The bigger the goal, the more people I tell.) The theory behind this is that the pain of NOT doing something you’ve committed to verbally with others is greater than procrastination and lack of inertia.

By following these tips, you’ll also be creating a set routine and setting a goal, which are two suggestions off the WebMD site for fighting depression.

There have been times when I’ve felt so lost and down that I’ve prescribed “a hike a day” for myself, even a short one as close as possible to my house. What I’ve found is that after three days of this kind of imposed routine, I begin to feel much better. I have insights while out there looking at the trees and mountains. I begin to feel like a part of the world, not like the world is on my shoulders. The exercise alone is like throwing open the windows in a stale house in the spring.

I’m willing to bet that you’ll feel much better after a nice hike, and you’ll think clearer and maybe even get some new ideas for how to live in a way that makes you feel alive and purposeful.