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I think I can, I think I can

Day 1 Lora shadow

Lora’s shadow on the trail at the Grand Canyon

Life is about trying.

Easy or difficult, a smooth path or a journey strewn with obstacles, there are no guarantees. We must try or never know what could have been.

I first learned that lesson from my Grandfather when he drove my young sister and me up the hill to his house every Sunday for dinner, chanting “I think we can, I think we can!” as his old Buick inched up Pill Hill in Rochester, Minnesota. (We always made it to the top.)

Thirty years later, I learned that lesson from my Mother when she counseled me not to walk away from the Bar Exam in Albuquerque, NM after the first of three grueling days of testing. “You don’t know if you’ll pass,” she said, “but you certainly will know that you failed if you don’t try.” (I stayed and I passed!)

Now at 63, I learned that lesson once again. I hiked down and up the Grand Canyon, telling myself “I think I can, I think I can.” (I did, with the help of an angel.)

Reservations were made 13 months in advance for a bunkbed at the popular Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. At the time, I didn’t give it a second thought. As this adventure drew near, my hiking partner decided to cancel, and my doubts crept in.

Could I scale the 4,380-foot elevation drop from the rim to the bottom and back out? A sign on the South Kaibab trail warns hikers: “Hiking down is a choice; hiking back up is not optional.”

I enjoy walking city streets and flat paths, and I consider myself of average weight and fitness for a newly-minted senior citizen.

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Lila and Oma at the Grand Canyon 2014

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon many times, as a child and then again with my own children and, most recently, with my grandchild. The splendid sunset from the South Rim is incomparable anywhere else in the world, but never have I considered hiking down and up myself.

If I didn’t try now, in all likelihood, I wouldn’t get another chance.

I didn’t spend weeks or months preparing. Instead, I decided to crowdsource among friends on Facebook for ideas. Walking sticks to steady me, good hiking boots that were well-worn, a headlamp in case I was out on the trail after dark, moleskin for the inevitable blisters, an emergency blanket to keep me warm, a whistle if I fell and needed to summon help, and water. Carry plenty of water.

The night before my descent, I slept like a baby at the historic Bright Angel Lodge. I didn’t have butterflies or any second thoughts. “I can do this!”

Bright Angel Cabin where I stayed

Bright Angel Lodge – South Rim of the Grand Canyon

The next morning, the young man at the front desk told me about his experience “slipping and sliding” down the South Kaibab Trail — the trail I was set to embark on after breakfast!  The waitress who served me a hearty meal of eggs, hashbrowns and bacon at the Harvey House Cafe told me she had tried to hike down but turned around when she realized how difficult it was. She took the day off from waitressing the following day because her legs were still wobbly.  Both these young people were in their late 20s – early 30s. Uh oh!

I waited alone for the bus to take me to the trailhead, with the butterflies beginning to stir.  At 8:30 AM I checked my backpack one last time, clicked my walking sticks together, and started down the South Kaibab Trail.

Day 1 Lora beginning the hike down

Lora looking confident as she starts down the South Kaibab Trail

The day was sunny and the Grand Canyon looked just like every postcard I’ve ever seen – perfect!  The South Kaibab Trail (7.1 miles) was all down hill and appeared easy to negotiate. No problem!

Nearly everyone I passed on the trail asked me if I was hiking alone. Although my first step was taken solo, I never felt alone on the trail. There were people of all ages with me going in both directions; everyone watching out for each other.

Day 1 hikers 2

Hikers on the South Kaibab trail

My notion of a peaceful, meditative hike was promptly discarded when I realized the trail was narrow, rocky and dangerous in many spots. My full attention was needed for nearly every step of the way.

Months earlier a woman let her concentration slip for a moment, and it cost her, her life. She politely stepped aside for a hiker to pass her on a ledge, and she fell 300 feet to her death at Ooh Ahh Point.

Day 1 trail 7

The trail follows the path originally carved out by animals but it is certainly a miracle of human ingenuity and skill to maintain for hikers year round.

Since I was probably one of the slowest hikers, I was frequently stepping aside as hikers approached from either direction. I never forgot where the edge was, choosing to step to the inside when possible.

Day 1 mules

Everything that enters or leaves the Grand Canyon is carried by mule or horse on the same trails that hikers follow.

Day 1 half way downHalfway down the South Kaibab Trail, I was feeling strong and confident. When I saw this sign, I had no doubts that I would succeed. I certainly didn’t think about turning back and climbing out.

The temps rose as I continued down. First, I took off my outer shell, then took off my inner jacket and scarf, and I sipped my water.

I stopped to rest and ate a protein power bar for energy even though I wasn’t hungry. Someone mentioned that it’s important to eat when drinking water because too much water can throw a hiker’s electrolytes off kilter.

I learned so much from my fellow hikers. I was so thirsty!

A ranger approached me. He was hiking up as I was headed down. He called out to me “You must be Lora!” The women hikers I had shared some of the trail with earlier must have alerted him to my solo hike. He asked if I was OK. I told him I was thirsty and mistakenly thought that I could refill my 48 oz bottle along the way. Although there is potable water on the Bright Angel Trail, there’s none on the South Kaibab Trail.

He offered me some of his water but I refused, telling him that he must save it for his long hike up the trail. Imagine having to commute to work on the South Kaibab Trail! Thankfully, they don’t do it every day, but spend 4 or 5 days down in the bottom and 3 days up on top. You’ll never see overweight rangers or other Park Service employees at the Grand Canyon.  They get a lot of exercise!Day 1 Colorado River and the trail

The ranger convinced me that he regularly carries extra water and wouldn’t need it. In fact, it would “lighten his load” if I took some. So I did, and then told him I felt refreshed after taking a deep swig. He reassured me that Phantom Ranch wasn’t far beyond the Colorado River.

And then I saw it – the Colorado River.

It wasn’t much further, but distances can be deceiving!

I was tired but not hurting anywhere. My feet, legs and back all seemed to be working just fine.

The most arduous part of the hike down on that first day had been the strong winds. At one point, I had to stop in my tracks for a few minutes to brace against the wind; it was simply too strong to continue hiking.

I was very thankful for my walking sticks. They kept me upright the whole day. I passed athletes running in both directions (crazy people are everywhere) but I took it nice and slow and never lost my step going down.

 

Crossing the Colorado River in the late afternoon felt like a huge achievement, until I realized Phantom Ranch was somewhere beyond, not sure how much further. I was really tired. The National Park Service brochure estimates the hike down the South Kaibab Trail is 4-5 hours, but for me, it was 9-10 hours. Nevermind, it wasn’t a race and I was feeling really good.

Day 2 Bright Angel campground

Bright Angel Campground near Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Since I arrived later than everyone else, I had a top bunk in the cabin shared with 9 other women. We all sat around sharing stories of our day; fortunately they were all positive.

When I took my boots and socks off, I saw the blisters. The skin on the tip of one toe completely fell off. I thought it was strange that my feet didn’t hurt during the day. I didn’t feel any blisters forming, and they didn’t really hurt now.

Phantom Ranch dining hall

Main Mess Hall at Phantom Ranch

At dinner in the main mess hall, I sat next to the semi-retired attorney from Philadelphia with whom I’d shared part of the trail. She bought wine and beer for everyone in our group and then whispered to me that she was celebrating her 81st birthday. Further down the table, a girl (10- 12?) was also celebrating a birthday with her family. The staff brought out a birthday cake with candles, and we all sang “Happy Birthday”.

The stars in the sky that night were the brightest I’ve ever seen because it’s so dark at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. When I climbed into my bunk, my legs were cramping with currents of electricity. I took some Tylenol and was out like a light before the cabin lights were turned off. The next morning, we heard the wake-up knock at 4:30 AM on our door announcing “5 AM breakfast”. It was still dark outside, and I wasn’t interested in eating at 5 AM!*!*!*!  So I stayed in bed while most of the other women got up and dressed magically without turning on the lights.

 

With my flashlight on, I followed the path to the main hall about 5:30 AM and waited outside with everyone else while staff checked to see if there had been any cancellations.  I wanted to spend a second night at Phantom Ranch but no such luck!

After breakfast, I headed out about 7:00 AM to climb the Bright Angel Trail, about 10 miles to the top. I’d been told the hike down on the South Kaibab Trail was more difficult because of the steep descent. My feet were ready, the blisters covered with moleskin.

Colorado River Day 2

Colorado River

The Colorado River mesmerized me that morning, I didn’t want to leave it. I stopped every few feet to take another photo with my phone/camera, and pretended I was one of the early indigenous peoples who saw this mighty river hundreds of years ago. There truly is a life force in nature – the Colorado River is my proof.

 

When I crossed it, knowing this is probably the last time I’ll ever see it so intimately, I said a quiet prayer of thanks.

Then the climb out began. It was another perfect day, with less wind and no aches or pains. I didn’t even feel my blisters. Strange!

Day 1 step by step
Step by step, I think I can, I think I can.

Honestly, the Bright Angel Trail is easier even though it’s a good cardiovascular workout. I wasn’t in a race, so I stopped and rested whenever I felt the need. My goal was to make it to the top before dark, before 6:30 PM.

 

 

There were streams to cross, and at one point I stopped because I thought I’d lost the trail. Many hikers passed me in both directions. I spent the day alone, but never alone … really.

Day 2 friend near Indian Garden

Everyone who passed had something positive to share with me, and words of encouragement. I don’t know whether I looked old and tired, but I certainly didn’t feel it. I met young people hiking rim to rim (IN A SINGLE DAY!) and others hiking for the pure pleasure of being in nature.  I saw riders on horseback, preferring blisters on their butts rather than their feet, I suppose.

The hours ticked on. About 1 PM, I realized I probably wouldn’t make it to the top before dark because I’d been following my progress on my map. Every switchback led me closer to my goal.

A friend had warned me not to look up, just look back down the trail I’d traversed. That was very good advice.

 

Day 2 horses again 2

Visitors riding up Bright Angel Trail on horses

Day 2 rim to rim athletes at 3 mile rest house

They hiked Rim to Rim in a single day

Then at about 3 miles from the top, my exhaustion set in.  I didn’t feel any pain, but I felt very, very tired.

Day 2 path to 3 mile rest houseThe trail gradient most of the day had been “manageable” for me, but as I got closer to the top, it became steeper and steeper, almost like climbing a difficult staircase without the stairs or railings.

I started moving slower and slower.

At sundown I thought to myself, “maybe I’ll be stuck on the trail tonight, maybe I can’t make it to the top.”

Then my grandfather’s message came to mind – “I think I can, I think I can.”

And I remembered my mother’s encouragement during my State Bar exam.  And I told myself, “step by step.”

A few moments later I saw a young woman (early 40s?) walking down the trail towards me. She looked so energetic and full of bounce.

She walked up to me and said, “I passed those guys ahead of you on the trail and they told me that you’re one bad ass lady!”  I didn’t know how to respond, I was too tired to speak. She asked me how I felt, and I told her I was tired. She said she was headed down the trail a bit to refill her bottle with water, but said she would carry my backpack for me when she returned.

Annette turned out to be the head housekeeper at the Bright Angel Lodge where she has worked for 20+ years. I’m sure she could have hiked the final 1.5 miles up the trail in less than an hour, but she stayed with me for the next 2 hours, shining her flashlight ahead on the trail. I wore my headlamp, and had a flashlight too. We walked slowly, step by step, talking about family, about our youth (her father was a florist and had 12 kids … they visited national parks in their stationwagon every summer). I tripped once, and had difficulty breathing. I frequently stopped to catch my breath. Annette never left my side. We finally reached the top about 8:00 PM —- thirteen hours, ten miles, and nearly 5,000 feet.

Annette was my angel. Maybe I could have climbed out on my own, probably in tears from exhaustion, but I know Annette’s conversation and encouragement made the final ascent memorable and safe for me. And no tears!  I’ll never forget her. My singular regret is that I never got her picture.

The next morning, I made a donation to the Grand Canyon Association in Annette’s name.  If you want the beauty of nature to be available for your children and grandchildren, I encourage you to consider making a donation too. I heard stories about shrinking federal funds for the Grand Canyon and our other federal lands. They are relying more heavily now on this nonprofit for basic research, trail maintenance and education.

Day 1 Lookout Studio Mary Colter

Mary Colter’s studio

 

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Overcoming Isolation in Gaza: A Report Back

An American recently visited Gaza. He’s an AFSC staff member. His comments provide a brief glimpse of what he saw and experienced in Gaza.

Shalom Rav

IMG_3519 (1) Gaza City, 10/8/17. The Bakr children were killed on this beach by Israeli military forces on 7/16/14.

I’ve been writing a great deal on this blog about Gaza for over ten years but until this past week, I haven’t had the opportunity to visit in person. I’m enormously grateful for the opportunity to experience Gaza as a real living, breathing community and I’m returning home all the more committed to the movement to free Gaza from Israel’s crushing blockade – now eleven years underway with no end in sight.

For the past ten days, I’ve been attending strategic planning meetings with staff colleagues of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to sharpen our vision for our Israel/Palestine programs in the US, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. We began with three days of meetings in Ramallah – with our Gazan staff members joining us via Skype. Following these meetings, six…

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The Path of Peace – the End of Israel

There is no way to peace.

Peace is the way.

A.J. Muste

I need to reconcile the hot, burning anger inside with this statement that a friend sent to me this morning.

I don’t know anything about A.J. Muste, but his words resonate with me. Put another way, peace is not the destination with easy way markers to lead us there, but a journey we are living which requires intentional thought and hard work.

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My hiking companions on the Camino de Santiago in April 2016

However, I feel anything but peaceful. My anger is visceral. My heart muscles are twitching. I’m laser-focused on the source of my anger (COGAT) and the injustices perpetrated daily, but now that injustice is screwing my good friend in Gaza.

Today Mohammed Awad (age 28) is sitting on a precipice. The State of Israel appears determined to throw him over the edge.

Three smiling men

Mohammed Awad on the left

Mohammed is the first Palestinian I met in Gaza; actually we met via Facebook many months before I traveled to Gaza. His intellectual curiosity about the world beyond his borders struck me as unusual. I’d never met any young Americans with that same fervor for exploring ideas and challenging their own ideas and perceptions.

Even though Mohammed has never traveled outside of Gaza, his mind has touched many new horizons thanks to his university studies, his reading, his questioning and his desire to learn.

Goldsmiths 2

Goldsmiths

Recognizing Mohammed’s special gift for learning, the Goldsmiths program at the University of London awarded him a fully-funded scholarship to pursue his Masters Degree in Multilingualism, Linguistics, & Education beginning October 1, 2017.

Mohammed followed all the required steps — getting a UK visa, notifying the Palestinian authorities, requesting permission to exit Gaza from Israel’s COGAT, asking the Israeli human rights organization (Gisha) for assistance — and yet he’s caught in Israel’s red tape and there’s a serious risk he may lose his scholarship as a result.  The State of Israel is pushing him over the cliff.  Read the Independent’s story here.

 

Thus, my red hot anger. My voice inside my head wishing bodily harm to the Israeli officials sitting at their COGAT desks. My frustration at my personal impotence — unable to kick down the walls that separate Mohammed from his future studies in the UK.

How do I reconcile my feelings this morning with the journey I feel committed to follow?  The answer came when I found another quote by A.J. Muste.

A J Muste

Substitute “Occupation” for “war” and I think I’ve found the answer.

The State of Israel has existed for 70 years (1948-2018), and has occupied the Palestinian territories and Gaza for 50 years (1968-2018). Throughout its existence, the State has acted and reacted from a place of profound fear, viewing the world and its neighbors as hostile forces requiring a strong defense.

When the Zionists decided to create their new state on top of the lands, towns and villages of the Palestinians, the Arab world was certainly hostile. But time has proven two things: (1) the State of Israel is not a good neighbor and doesn’t know how to treat “others” with dignity or respect, and (2) the State of Israel has no regard for the international rule of law when it views the law as an impediment to its objectives.  In both cases, the Palestinians be damned!

Therefore, I’ve found the answer to my conundrum.  How can I maintain my personal journey or path focused on peace, while feeling this profound anger?  Does peace require the absence of anger?  Does peace require passivity in the face of injustice?  — NO! —

The State of Israel has lost its legitimacy to exist as the State of Israel, it has proven it’s incapable of reform or changing its way.  By its own calculation and design, the State of Israel is the embodiment of war. It must fail.

I want to use whatever power and influence I may have to end the State of Israel. It’s no longer an issue of two states, side-by-side. It’s no longer an issue of remaining neutral or on the fence between the two. The State of Israel must end, and a new state must rise in its place where everyone (Jew, Christian, Muslim) share equal rights.

You may call me foolish, naive, a warmonger and an anti-Semite. I’m none of those. I want Jews to live in peace and security with their neighbors. I want Palestinians to enjoy the same. Based on the many, many Palestinians that I’ve met in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jordan … I know they want peace, security and dignity too, side-by-side with all religions.

I have not met many Jews who will make the same declaration. Perhaps their fear is too great. Or perhaps their sense of entitlement to a piece of land prevents them from securing long-term peace for themselves and their neighbors.

However, I will no longer be an enabler for their dysfunctional State.

Mohammed Awad is exactly the kind of person that Israelis and Jews worldwide need as a good neighbor. They should be bending over backwards to ensure his success. It’s in their best interest to make sure Mohammed and every Palestinian fulfills his or her dreams.

Now I understand, my journey for peace is consistent with ending the State of Israel for everyone’s sake.

 

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We All Live in Gaza

A couple of years ago, Maurice Jacobsen contacted me out of the blue.  I remember it well because I was sitting in Cairo trying to return to Gaza, and Maurice was an American who wanted to travel to Gaza also. He’s a filmmaker, and producer-director at Inshallah Media Project.

I couldn’t give him much encouragement because I hadn’t found any cracks in Israel’s tight siege of the Gaza Strip.  But Maurice didn’t give up.

The fruit of his labors can be seen in this wonderful short film.  Congratulations Maurice! Thank you for bringing all of these Palestinian artists to our attention.

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Day #27 – August 2, 2014 – Thoughts

Source: Day #27 – August 2, 2014 – Thoughts

Three years later and I will not forget.  Day #27 of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge and the murderous assault on the people in Gaza.

A child burns – a Palestinian child.

A rock throwing teenage boy is shot and killed – a Palestinian teenager.

An old woman in a wheelchair sits helplessly as soldiers invade her home and is shot point blank in the head – a Palestinian old woman.

A young man searches in the rubble for his family and is target practice for a sharp shooter – a Palestinian young man.

The images go on and on and on.  I can’t get them out of my head.  I don’t want to get them out of my head.

We know the victims — all Palestinians. Who are the killers?

Jewish/Zionist/settlers/terrorists in the first case.  Well-trained, well-supplied Israeli soldiers in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th cases.

Netanyahu condemns the first and praises the 2nd, 3rd and 4th. He has the power to label the terrorists.  He knows who is terrorizing whom.

Israeli citizens feel remorse in the first case, but national pride in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th cases.

Religious leaders in Israel are split on whether to condemn or praise the murder in the first case, but none speak up against the killings in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th cases.

What hope for a future is there when terrorists act with impunity? When the State of Israel is not held accountable?  When Palestinian lives are cheaper than the olive trees that the Jewish/Zionist/settlers/terrorists destroy?

There was a time when I could distinguish between Jewish/Zionist/settlers/terrorists.  Today, now, in this moment, I can’t.

And that worries me more than words can say.
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Young Palestinian men enjoying a BBQ at the beach in Gaza.

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أنا سعيد

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Palestinian children playing at the park.

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Friends in Gaza

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Gaza 2014 - credit D. Cormier

Shujaya 9

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Day #20 – The Children of Gaza in Operation Protective Edge

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA

A Palestinian medic carries the body of a child, killed in an explosion in a public playground on the beachfront of Shati refugee camp, in the morgue of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza (Photo credit: Juliana Jiménez)

Source: Day #20 – July 26, 2014 – Palestinian Lives Matter!

Three years ago, British journalist Jon Snow returned back from a reporting trip to the Gaza Strip, a war zone during Operation Protective Edge. Watch his brief report carefully. His observations should be held up to journalism students worldwide as an exemplary model for how to cover the realities of life and death in a war zone. Americans don’t see this type of reporting from Gaza, Mosul or Yemen. Why?

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Day #18 – July 24, 2014 – What does Congress know?

I’m sharing my post from two years ago. Sadly, nothing much has changed for the Palestinians on the ground in Gaza. In fact, it’s only gotten worse.

Displaced Palestinian children from Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip stand behind the window of a classroom on July 23, 2014 at a UN school in the refugee camp of Jabalia where displaced families have taken refuge after fleeing heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip. (Photo credit: Juliana Jiménez is a former Slate photo editor and now a contributor writing on Latin American politics and culture for the Slatest.)

Source: Day #18 – July 24, 2014 – What does Congress know?

Today marks the 18th day of Israel’s genocidal assault against the men, women and children in Gaza last summer.

No doubt, “purists” will object to this characterization, but I have no doubts that the intent and the impact was genocidal.

I visited Capitol Hill yesterday (July 23, 2015) to speak with my member of Congress about Israel and Palestine.  She knows of my interest (and hopefully my expertise) because we have talked about it many times, both in DC and in Albuquerque.  I was disappointed but understand why she wasn’t in her office yesterday when I arrived. Her daughter went into labor early and delivered her first grandchild, so she was on a plane headed back to Albuquerque. Congratulations!!

I sat with her legislative assistant for foreign affairs. John and I have talked several times, and I felt the meeting was a success because we’re building bridges.  I may not agree with every vote, but I believe in my Congresswoman’s sincerity when she says she wants to do the right thing. My job is to help her (and John) understand what is the right thing.

I shared the following letter and we discussed these points for nearly an hour.  My shock and dismay came when I asked whether Congress and/or staff have received any briefings about Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. John said they were briefed last summer during Israel’s military assault, but he’s not aware of any follow-up briefings since then.   Day #18 – July 24, 2014 – What does Congress know?

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