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Autumn is upon us and the days are getting shorter. You know what that means. Hot cocoa, marshmallows, and hot cocoa with marshmallows.
What better place to enjoy your hot cocoa than in the brisk darkness of the wilderness?
Damn right! But when night creeps up on you sooner than expected, you'll be wise to take precautions to ensure you make it home safe.
About this time a few years ago, in Glacier NP, I miscalculated how long it would take me to get back to camp. As a consequence, I found myself staring down a hungry bear in the darkness of the forest. I was just yards away from the false safety of my tent when I heard a rustling sound in the bushes. I turned and before I knew it, was face-to-face with a grizzly three times my size, with only 5 or 6 feet separating us.
Eyes glowing yellow in the moonlight, it turned toward me, but remained where it was, sizing me up. This was the most intense staring contest I’d ever been in. Seconds felt like minutes. Hand on my bear spray, I remained as still as I could, wondering if the bear could hear my beating heart.
All of the skills I learned over the years were rushing through my mind, as I plotted my possible escape. At the same time, I was slowly resigning and thinking, “there are worse ways to die.” All of this probably happened in a matter of seconds, but it felt like hours.
Then, like a cacophony of knights, a pack of coyotes started wailing off in the distance. My adversary seemed to take this as a sign of distraction, and just trotted off like it was nothing.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little offended. What, I’m not delicious enough for you? A pack of howling coyotes miles away is enough for you to just scoff at my savory offering?
Pfff, whatever, bear. Whatever.
Hiking and backpacking at night don’t have to be scary or treacherous. The darkness of the nighttime provides an unmatched serenity you can enjoy. Getting past the fear of the unknown is itself a courageous reward. It also makes room for an added layer of exploration with heightened senses. Sort of like being (partially) blindfolded. You’re relying on all your senses and will pick up on things you wouldn’t usually notice.
Same world. Different world.
Trekking in the moonlight is cool because the it casts interesting shadows, offering a unique perspective on your surroundings. If the moon is bright enough you may not need a headlamp, allowing you to see the night landscape with a broader view.
If you’re lucky enough to be far from any city lights, the stars will blow your mind. If you're really lucky, you'll be able to see the Milky Way shining bright like an astronomical angel in the sky.
Sounds great, right?
It’s even better if you’re not constantly worrying about whether you’re going to make it out alive. So here are some basic tips to make sure your amazing night trek is the best experience you can have:
Bring a headlamp, or flashlight (or both). And bring extra batteries (and know how to change them, in case you have to do so in the dark). Being able to see is pretty fundamental to night hiking.
Bring some type of navigation. GPS, map & compass, etc. Knowing how to get around is important. Even more so at night when you have fewer landmarks and clever tools at your disposal.
Start slow and familiar. Short hikes first, close to home. Make sure you like it (you will), then go hog wild thousands of miles away.
Bringing a hiking partner isn't a bad idea. Someone to calm you when you see strange things (like a tree stump suddenly resembling a forest creature). It's also someone to share their hot cocoa and marshmallows with you.
Bring extra clothing, food, and water. When it gets dark, it gets cold. Fast. Waterproof clothing is useful for dew or rain. You’ll probably get hungry (as most people do when they’re trekking), so food is a necessity.
And water… duh. Let the other person carry the cocoa.
Bonus: Grab a camera. You can get some badass pictures at night. Star trails, the Milky Way, moonlight pictures, long-exposure shots of landmarks. Taking pictures of familiar landscapes at night allows you to see them in a new and fun way.
So go! Frolic in the glowing moonlight (safely). And if you see that bear, tell him I'm so totally over it.
What’s your favorite night trekking experience? Tell us in the comments.
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Hey guys, guess what! April 16 – 24 is National Park Week. You know what that means! Oh, you don’t? Well, allow me to suppress my excitement long enough to tell you.
It means you can get into the national parks FOR FREE!
Say whaaaa?! That’s right, friends. Put those checkbooks away (because people still use checkbooks, right?). Slide right on through that welcome booth and enjoy yourself. This week you can hike, camp, and frolic your mighty heart out on Uncle Sam’s dime.
It’s going to be a whole week of fun and exciting adventures! Check it out:
April 22nd is the day we’ve all been waiting for. Earth Day! Release your inner (or outer) hippie and get involved. Mother Earth needs you. She wants you. She desires you.
Wait, what was I saying? Right. Earth Day. A lot of the parks offer ways you can volunteer. Some will have special projects planned for Mother Earth’s Day. Call them to check it out and see if there’s a way you can help.
C’mon, everyone’s doing it.
On April 23rd, you can host or join an Instameet. That means you get a bunch of people together via Instagram to party hard and take pretty photos. This is how people meet now. Jump on that bandwagon. Technology, eh?
April 24th is National Park Rx Day. This is the first year of Park Rx Day so make it a good one. It’s a response to the Surgeon General's call to action, to get people out more, moving around and stuff. Sounds reasonable. What better place to do that than our beautiful National Parks? Seems like a fitting title, given that nature is good for our brain and body. A little Rx does us good, ya hear?
The guys over at Nature Rx agree:
So turn X-Factor off, get out of your house, and go visit a park (or two, or three). You have no excuse not to. It's National Park Week. Strap on those boots and go for a hike. Or bike. Or kayak. Bring the kiddos and enjoy a picnic. Encourage them to be a Junior Ranger so they can learn about nature and wildlife. Bring along your camera or GoPro so you can document the undeniable beauty you’ll see along the way. And maybe catch someone doing something ridiculous. Appreciate these parks that were set aside for all of us to enjoy.
And don’t forget that this year is the National Parks Service’s 100th birthday. Damn, she looks good for 100.
Not sure what to do? Fret not. If you run out of ideas or find that you don’t have any, let us know. We're happy to help!
Last summer I lived a stone's throw away from two of our nation's most pristine national parks. Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. As you can imagine, I saw a lot of tourists. And I do mean a lot.
Envision driving down the highway on your way to town. Routine grocery run. The Cheerios need milk and the cat needs kibble.
But wait! You're in Wyoming, where the buffalo roam free to nosh in the meadow next to the highway. Pretty cool, right? Yeah! The driver in front you agrees, so they slam on their brakes to get a better look. That's right, coming to a complete stop right in the middle of the highway. With you behind them, cruising at a healthy 60mph. Look, I get it. Buffalo are badass. But dude, the highway!!
The way I see it, you've got three choices:
Slam on your brakes, hoping you don't take out their rear bumper, and chill in your car with some Bob Marley. After all, not everyone gets to see this level of awesome on the daily.
Keep driving, right into the ass end of their rental car. Let's hope they're responsible enough to opt in for the coverage.
Slide open that sunroof, stand up on your seat, and let loose a mighty roar fierce enough to make the driver and the buffalo retreat in fear.
Anyone who has lived near a popular park knows how maddening groups of tourists can be. I hate to harp on Yellowstone, and it’s not their fault. But, some of the most appalling behavior I've seen was in that park. I often feel like a renegade park Ranger when I'm there.
I've stopped counting the times I told people to step away from the very large, very wild, very dangerous bison. My favorite has to be the woman who was inching her way closer to a nursing bison. The murderous look in Momma Bison's eyes should have been enough to deter her. I calmly asked this woman for her address so I could show up to her own house next time she was nursing her child. Maybe she just needed to know how it feels. A little empathy can go a long way.
Or the time a teenage girl was dangling her grimy feet in a geyser 3 feet from a sign telling her to stay out of it. I was kind enough to warn her she should expect her skin to decay in the next 2-3 weeks (hence the signs- for her safety). Was I lying? Damn right. Kids, sometimes we have to lie for the advancement of the greater good. Life is complicated.
I don't think I've seen a teenager run that fast, outside of school sports or a mall sale.
More importantly, though, none of the fifty or more people standing around said a single thing to her. Many of them just stood and gawked, shaking their head. They knew it was wrong, so why not mention it? I’m sure several of them would have been more tactful about it than I was.
Why people feel the need to profess their undying love by carving it into a tree or boulder is beyond me. I can only hope that Cletus returns to the park with his future wife who will inevitably ask who the hell Tammy Mae is.
And don't get me started on selfie sticks. It's like walking through an obstacle course the way you have to dodge those things. Sometimes I imagine cartwheeling my way through the park, collecting as many selfie sticks as I can. Each one earns me coins, which I can then trade for something useful, like a waffle cone maker or Laserdiscs.
I could go on with the ridiculous things I’ve seen tourists do. I don’t need to because others have done it for me. Several lists of one-star Yelp reviews for national parks have come out. Yellowstone itself has seen their fair share of silly questions from the tourism crowd.
Tourism is a tricky beast. We’ve all been a tourist. Individually, most tourists are congenial creatures who just want to enjoy the beauty and awe the national parks inspire. But pack them into crowds and they morph into a mysterious force that strikes confusion into the heart of the most seasoned sociologists.
I generally don’t make a habit of teasing tourists, but I need them to help me make a point. The national parks are for all of us to enjoy. While I poke fun at tourists my point is it’s important to speak up. If you see someone violating our shared space, or putting anyone in danger, say something. Look, I get it. We’ve all fallen victim to the bystander effect at some point.
But really, if you see someone jamming their leg into a geyser full of bacteria, put a stop to that nonsense.
This way we can all keep being tourists at these amazing places that make our country unique. The longer we keep the parks pristine, the longer we can enjoy what they have to offer. It's up to all of us.
The good news is, Yellowstone is such a massive piece of land, it’s easy to get away from the crowds. The backcountry is substantial. You can hang out with herds of buffalo when you tire of running with the herds of people. You should check it out sometime if you haven’t already.
Do you have any memorable tourism stories during your outdoor adventures? Tell us about them! We love stories.
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Anyone who has been to Death Valley in Eastern California knows it can be a harsh, fearful environment.
I grew up in the comfortable climate of the Pacific Northwest, where the temps seldom rise above the mid-80s. The first time I came to Death Valley it was an instant shock to my delicate system. I stepped out of my car into the blistering 126-degree heat and nearly choked on my own stifled breath.
The second time I visited the park, I was actually blown over by a gust of wind, right onto my ass. Granted, I weigh in at just over a Benjamin (100lbs). But that’s 85% Grade-A lean meat of Benji. I'd expect a little more stability from all the time I put into my training.
As you can imagine, I fell in love with this place with a quickness. Every girl loves a bad boy who can choke her and knock her down, but still astounds her with awe and makes her cry tears of joy. Am I right?
Look, it’s a complicated relationship.
My point is this place doesn’t mess around when it comes to weather. I'm sure the variety of climate conditions contribute to the spectacular sunrise and sunsets you’ll see in the area.
Death Valley is a strange and beautiful place. The lowest point in the park is 282 feet below sea level, and the highest point rises to over 11,000 feet.
You can imagine there are a variety of landscapes you might not expect from a desert environment. That’s what you get for making assumptions. Shame on you.
One special surprise the park gifts us is the colorful display of wildflowers that spring up each year between the months of February and June.
The splash of color against the muted backdrop of sand create an appealing contrast usually reserved for oil paintings.
Once in a rare while, when the conditions are just right, the park will experience a Super Bloom. The last two Super Blooms were in 1998 and 2005, so the park hasn’t seen an event like this in over a decade. El Nino brought heavy rain to the area this year, making the once harsh environment fertile for another Super Bloom. We all waited in anxious anticipation to see what would happen, and the Desert of Doom did not disappoint.
Washes usually spotted with Desert Gold wildflowers are now blanketed in sheets of yellow. Just looking at it makes you want to roll around like a feline stoned on catnip.
You can actually frolic in the flowers like a happy child, waving your arms about, singing tunes from The Sound of Music. You can do this in the hottest place on earth (and driest in North America). Talk about a rare and splendid opportunity.
And let’s be honest. When you’re in a field of wildflowers the only appropriate action is to frolic gaily.
The Super Bloom won’t last long. Most of the flowers will be gone by late June or July. While they’re here, the surplus of vibrant blossoms is awaiting your deserved admiration. So go, see history in the making. Walk through the Valley of Death and see for yourself there’s no evil to fear. It’s a veritable gangsters paradise right now. Ah yes, that’s where I’ve heard that line. ;-)
Check out some of the great hikes while you’re there. Death Valley boasts some fantastic canyons and sand dunes. There's even a massive volcanic crater.
Have you been to Death Valley, or been fortunate enough to witness a Super Bloom? Tell us about it!
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One of our readers asks if it’s better to go backpacking solo, or with company. Getting down to the crux of the issue, it’s a matter of personal preference. Both scenarios have their pros and cons. I think most people should try each one on before deciding which they prefer.
As with most things, it's a good idea to weigh the benefits of both scenarios before deciding which you want to try first. We can assume here that the benefit of the opposite scenario acts as a disadvantage to each.
Without further ado, here are 5 benefits of backpacking alone, and 5 benefits of backpacking with company.
Benefits of backpacking alone:
You can sit with your thoughts, uninterrupted. We’re all a work in progress (it’s okay to admit it). As such, we should afford ourselves moments of quiet reflection to just check-in. You know, incite our inner hippie and all that. Mindfulness meditation is good for you; science says so. What better place to take a chill pill than the warm embrace of Mother Nature’s bosom? Without companions urging you to hurry up, you can sit in peace as long as you damn well please.
It’s peaceful. There’s a tranquility to trekking solo that you won’t get when you’re with others. You’ll notice subtleties that you usually wouldn’t, since you're not distracted by conversation. The sound of the trees creaking in the breeze or the changing colors of the sky as the day blends into dusk. Enjoy these small gifts. Take them back with you as precious reminders of the time you spent exploring. You’ll need them back home when your three-year-old is screaming bloody murder inches from your face.
You can go where you want, when you want. You can leave whenever you want, since you aren’t working around anyone else’s schedule. Feel like checking out that rotting animal carcass over there?
Do it. There’s nobody around to tell you how creepy it is. Want to take a different trail, just because? Why not? You are your own guide. Hike at whatever pace is comfortable for you.
You’ll learn something about yourself. At some point during the trip, you’ll probably be forced out of your comfort zone. It could be as simple as digging a cathole and dropping in what remains of that bag of Doritos. Or it could be more serious, like deciding what to do when you see a bear sneaking up on you. The point is, you have to rely on yourself for safety and survival. You’d be amazed what you’re capable of in situations where your only option is to move forward or stay alive.
It’s easier to meet new people. Hikers and backpackers are generally a congenial crowd. They’re often quick to offer a smile, hello, friendly conversation, and a cold brewsky. In my experiences, other hikers are more likely to stop and chat if you’re solo. It also helps if you’re not scowling, staring at the ground, or wielding a hatchet. Just a helpful tip. It’s a great way to meet new friends or hiking companions. Especially if you’re backpacking locally or you’re new to the area.
Benefits of backpacking with company:
Companionship can ease boredom or loneliness. Having someone to talk to can be a valuable barrier to boredom, should it happen to creep in. Companions can also abate fears during the night when sounds become amplified and mysterious. Fair warning: you may risk scaring away hiking partners if the conversation becomes sinuous or overly lengthy. Or so I’m told.
You can share ideas. If you get lost, run out of food, find yourself in dire weather, or can’t agree on which Golden Girl is the best, having someone to bounce ideas off of can increase chances of survival (or agreement in an argument). Maybe someone else has a skill you haven’t learned, or knows something about the area you might not. More minds are usually better than one.
You can split gear and duties. This is especially useful for longer trips, or if there’s a discrepancy in size or ability of hikers. George carries the 4-person tent and sleep system. Jessica carries the food. Manuel carries the cooking supplies and first-aid. Katie carries the frisbee, lawn golf set, and beer. She’s obviously the most important person in this group. Setting up camp is faster, cooking can be easier, etc.
It can be safer. In the case of an accident, the injured person can be helped faster with someone to provide first-aid or get help. The more people, the better. Worse, if a terrifying honey badger comes along, much better to have two (or more) people there to fend it off. Make sure that evil creature doesn’t come back again.
Hiking and backpacking are great ways to bond. Being in the wilderness with only the companionship of who you’re with is a great way to build a bond with that person. Or want to kill them. Hopefully the former. You’re relying on each other for safety and support. Sharing an experience like that with someone can be pretty special. What happens in the wilderness stays in the wilderness. Except material things. Pack it in, pack it out.
There you have it. Both sides of this coin have advantages. Some people prefer to backpack solo, some prefer to trek with others, and some prefer to mix it up. Whatever you end up choosing, make sure you tell someone where you’re going and when you plan on returning. If you’re going solo, be especially mindful in your preparedness.
Do you prefer to hike with someone, or alone? Why? Tell us in the comments.
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Apparently, I love to move.
It must be the process of packing everything I own, driving thousands of miles, and unpacking all those things again that excites me.
It could also be that there’s so much world out there to experience, even in our own backyard. I just have the wanderlust to experience it.
No, it’s definitely got to be the tediousness of carrying heavy boxes that gets me going.
Whatever the reason, I moved again. This time to the fine state of Utah. Therefore, this post is a tribute to Utah.
Shout out to Utah!
I’ve had a love affair with southern Utah since I first laid eyes on it. Birds were chirping somewhere in the distance. Lionel Richie’s “Hello” softly filling the air.
I knew it was mutual because the "Welcome to Utah" sign offered up a stylish wedding ring.
The contrast of the deep blue skies against the brilliant red sandstone is like nothing I’ve seen. In fact, I remember people accusing me of over saturating untouched photos. No, it really is that colorful.
Zion National Park is, by far, one of the most spectacular places I’ve visited. It’s a place that simultaneously reminds you of how important and insignificant you are.
The grandiosity of the massive canyon walls are astounding and humbling; the beauty unforgettable.
If the National Parks were my children, Zion would be the obvious favorite. It’s a good thing I don’t have children.
Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. All places everyone should see in their life. If not for the views, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, climbing, stargazing, or other outdoor activities, then for the rich history. Your life isn’t complete until you’ve seen these places. They're even more beautiful in the winter.
Utah loves its National Parks. And why shouldn’t it? In 2013, the federal government threw a temper tantrum and shut down. As a result, the National Parks closed. But Utah said, “screw you” and struck a deal to reopen their National Parks. Go Utah!
But wait, there’s more!
Utah isn’t just about Mother Nature’s slots and dried up valleys. Up north is a different scene. Just a few hours away are the Rockies. The Wasatch and Uinta Ranges offer even more opportunities for play. The Wasatch have some of the best skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing in the world. The Uintas have several peaks taller than 13,000ft. Who can resist such bountiful peaks?
That’s a lot of diversity. There’s no excuse for boredom in a place like Utah. What other state offers so much variety in one arbitrarily designated set of boundaries?
Utah’s nature is boundless, but it’s great for other reasons too. The people here are, overall, super friendly. A lot of people migrate to Utah for a good reason. Every time I visit, I meet people from one of the places I’ve lived before. In a coffee shop, on a hike, in the bathroom (don’t ask).
I definitely look forward to planting my boots here for a while.
The Germans. They gave us beer, gummy bears, and America's favorite pastime, the television. In case you haven’t noticed, their language has also crept into American culture, like a stray cat that becomes a permanent fixture in your life. Words like pretzel, wanderlust, gesundheit, and my personal favorite, Schadenfreude.
There’s another borrowed German word used in the blogging world. Liebster. It means, “dearest” or “beloved.”
A Liebster Award is an online award given to bloggers, from bloggers. It’s nice to be appreciated for your work. What better way to say “thank you” than to follow up by appreciating other bloggers you feel deserve recognition?
Here’s how it works:
A blogger selects some blogs they think are the bomb (yes, people still say that).
They nominate those blogs for the Liebster.
They ask the nominee some questions, so we can get to know them better. It’s like a digital first date, sans roses.
The Liebster nominee accepts the award. Usually.
The Liebster winner answers the questions, revealing their deepest secrets to everyone.
They, in turn, select some blogs they think are the bomb, and pose their own set of questions.
Of course, we’re happy to accept this award.
The Modern Outdoors is nominated by Meg from Adventures of Fox in the Forest. This foxy little minx has a case of wanderlust like I have a case of chocolate lust. She’s traveled all over the world and lived to tell the stories. More than that, she’s an adventure seeker. Anyone can hop a plane to Thailand and sit in their hotel the entire time. But not Meg. She goes to the places where insects can kill you and scales the most terrifying mountain she can find. That’s my girl.
Thanks, Meg. We heart you too!
Here are the questions Foxy Fox asks. Unfortunately, no roses. But that’s okay. I prefer unbroken eye contact anyway.
1. What inspires you the most to get out and explore? Novelty. I get bored doing the same thing, so it doesn’t take long before I’m itching to see a new place or hike a new trail.
2. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life what dish would it be? That’s easy. Mac and cheese. You know how most kids love this dish and say they want to eat it forever? Yeah. I just never grew out of that phase.
3. What’s your favorite season and why? Autumn. Most of the places I’ve lived flourish in the Autumn. Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, now Utah. All these places come alive when the leaves turn vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and red.
4. You’re in the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen – describe it for us then tell us where it’s at. It could be anywhere. There’s a glacial lake the color of azure blue, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. All I hear is the beating of my own heart. And maybe a pika calling out. Damn those things are cute.
5. What was a time when you missed home the most? Recently. It’s not a perfect place. But when I see the entire city stand up for what I believe is right, in a time when many places become idle, I smile. I’m proud to be from a community of strong-minded people who continue to fight for progress.
6. What is your dream destination? Everywhere! But at the top of my list right now are Patagonia, and Iceland (which I’ll be seeing later this year).
7. Sunsets or sunrises? Why? Definitely sunsets. I’m rarely up early enough for a sunrise.
8. What has been your most embarrassing moment or mishap on the road, trail, or traveling? One time I forgot my ID at the airport. I learned that morning you can’t take a snow globe onto a plane, but apparently, you can get on without ID.
9. If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting out as a traveler or an outdoors enthusiast what would it be? Make mistakes. They’re your most valuable tool for learning. Humility is underrated. It gives us an opportunity to be better, through the power of embracing our fallibility.
10. What are your plans for 2017? To see more, to do more, to listen more. To feel more, to say more, to be more.
The blogs Modern Outdoors would like to nominate are very dear to us, for their own unique reasons.
We love My Way North because it speaks to the organized, inclusive part of our desires. It has everything from trip planning and reports, to gear reviews, to quick tips, to photo porn. All organized on a neat, easy to navigate site that doesn’t make you want to throw your mouse at the wall. My OCD feels happy when I read articles on MWN. They’re well-written posts, accompanied by beautiful photos, and clearly, come from an experienced outdoorsman.
We love Claire’s Wanderings because it appeals to the artist in us. Claire is an avid adventurer who brings her creative spirit on her expeditions. She paints the exquisite landscapes she visits. She shares images of the paintings on her blog with thought-provoking insights. These paintings are nothing to scoff at. I can barely draw a proper stick figure, and Claire throws together a painting of a beautiful mountainscape.
We love Arizona Day Hiker for one simple reason. We love authenticity. It’s so rare these days to see authentic work on the web. Jason, the brain behind ADH, knows who he is and if you don’t like it, you can go kick rocks. You’re probably doing that somewhere anyway. And, who he is happens to be a complete bad ass (whether he admits it or not). His posts are a balanced mix of adventure, philosophy, humor, and guest posts.
Here are my first date questions for you. First base, here I come!
1. What’s one risk you haven’t yet had the courage to take?
2. What’s your favorite outdoor-themed book or film?
3. What’s your guilty pleasure?
4. What/who inspires you?
5. What made you smile today?
6. When would you go if you had a time machine, and why?
7. What’s the coolest/strangest/most interesting thing you’ve learned this week?
8. What’s your best piece of advice?
9. If the world was about to end, how would you spend your last 24 hours?
10. If you were guaranteed the right answer to just one question, what question would you ask?
Thanks again to Meg for this honor. Now excuse me while I volksmarch with my schnauzer, to the Biergarten, so I can enjoy a wiener schnitzel and strudel, washed down with a stein of hefeweizen.
...Still like the tundra of his soul-
Somewhere in the dark face of this night
coyotes waltz in pale moonlight-
eyes glowing ethereal like lost comets
in some great void time forgot.
The tree hung over his tent was bowing
like its altar was the forest
and its leaves were wind chimes
with some story to tell
and prophecy to fulfill before dawn,
for the sun was his reckoning
and through his zipper
the saddest color in the room.
The saddest, brightest memory
he'd turned his back to and walk from.
Indifference was her name
and she kept him up at night,
sleepless but dreaming.
- Poem by Stephen Clock
(book of poems to be released soon)