Paris, France has been long known as “The City of Light”.  Nearly two weeks ago, a sudden darkness enveloped the city as terrorists struck at multiple locations where Parisians and others gathered, killing over 120 people and injuring several hundred more.I don’t have any easy answers or explanations for what happened, or any easy solutions to offer to end the cycle of violence and mayhem, either. What I sense, though, is that people who do not value and are willing to extinguish the lives of other human beings do not value their own lives as well.

It’s hard to tell where it all starts, this slippery slope of de-valuing people who do not believe, think, act, speak and look like themselves, to their willingness to denigrate and annihilate anyone and anything that represents what is threatening, which often means something they do not fully understand, nor wish to take the time and effort to better understand. How do people become so disconnected that they harm others and them selves? How do we do the same toward the environment in which we all live and depend upon?

We’re all complicit in this from time to time, casting for sound bite responses and solutions to complex issues, looking for the easy way out and to then move on with our busy lives, until the next crisis or misunderstanding arises. I would argue that until we start more compassionately connecting with others who are different from ourselves and the communities in which we live, not much will change, whether it is to reduce the conditions in which terrorism thrives worldwide, or to reduce the rate of global climate change that threatens our own and future generations.

Nature has and plays no favorites. There is no right or wrong, there are no favorites or rejects, their is no clear black or white. In nature, gray is o.k. Everything and everyone has a role to play and is of equal importance. We all belong-the question is “Can we all get along?”
Spending more time in the natural world breaks down artificial barriers humans create to divide and separate themselves. More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban and suburban areas, belying the need for people to connect more consistently and deeply with nature, which is the foundation of our human and planetary community, no matter where our feet are.

Maybe it all starts with self-love, understanding, compassion and forgiveness first. Maybe there’s a healthy dose of humility thrown into this messy recipe as well. Maybe it also requires us to turn off the televisions. computers, radios, and mobile devices, to not text, read newspapers or magazines for a little while, and to spend time in person having difficult and challenging conversations with people in your own immediate circle rather than expecting to change the lives of others half a world away.

About a week ago at a networking meeting, a fellow entrepreneur said that often, challenging and difficult conversations and conflicts ultimately create an opportunity for greater connection between people. She went on to say that this often means really listening and understanding where others are coming from before expecting and demanding others to understand them first. It’s a two-way street yet nearly everyone is in a hurry, trying to pass others in a rat race that humans and their institutions have created over time. As Lily Tomlin commented, “Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat”.

The City of Light, as myriad other cities, towns, villages and hamlets around the world have done before, is slowly recovering and rebounding after a senseless attack that plunged them into a brief darkness.

Let us give thanks that this will always be the path we choose to take when our instincts are to lash out and exact retribution from those who have caused us harm. If we take an honest and compassionate look at our own lives, we can find and seize opportunities to better understand, accept, forgive and love not only others, but ourselves as well.

Thanksgiving is a natural time to pause, reflect, and shine brightly our appreciation and love for all of humanity, and to take our own baby steps to creating peace in our hearts and world. As Jimi Hendrix once said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace”.

Have a wonderful, peaceful and Happy Thanksgiving!

Amazing Grace

Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of things that happen in our lives, and the unexpected passing of my Mom in early October really shook me to my core. Given my Dad’s dementia and other age-related challenges, my four siblings and I all thought he might have gone first, as my Mom had been spry and sharp and in seemingly better shape until the week before she passed.

My Mom, Angela, had been progressing well after a seemingly successful surgery in late August, but about five weeks later, she experienced a significant downturn once more. A second surgery left her with weakened vital signs and she passed away two mornings later, another star and ray of light returning to the great unknown. Her closest friends had always called her Angel.

One thing I do know is that my mom’s spirit and love live on in all the life and lives that I am a part of. It’s hard not to think about her during one of her favorite seasons (spring is #1, fall is #2), when walking and kicking through piles of colorful leaves swirling around on sidewalks, when glancing up at brilliant blue skies decorated with white puffy cumulus clouds, when witnessing squirrels and birds zoom around the backyard preparing for winter .Or when getting ready for Halloween, as she got such a kick out of helping my brother Bill and I with costumes when we were very young, and still enjoyed seeing photos of grandchildren and her own grown children dressing up in the spirit of the season..

My mom lived her last 20-plus years in an apartment complex west of Richmond, Virginia, where my oldest sister continues to live just a few doors down from where she called home. I was always astonished by how much my mom had turned her little corner of the earth outside her place into something so personal, so beautiful, and so magical. She planted, usually with the landlords’ permission, small bushes, trees and plants to brighten up her home outside her home. She nurtured hens and chickens, forget-me-nots and other flowers in small beds outside, and had turned an old wooden barrel into a planter, leaving a hole at the bottom of the barrel intact so chipmunks had a place to hide. I wouldn’t say she was one and at peace with the squirrels, though, as she alternated between leaving crumbs out for them to eat, and then shooing at them with a broom, followed by the occasional expletive, too! She had deep roots and a strong connection to where she lived, yet she also encouraged her five children to find their own places to grow, to become rooted and call home.

As an adult, it took time, effort and lots of soul-searching before I finally found my own place to call home and put down roots here in Montana, which is where I was when my sister called about my mom’s condition following her second surgery, and where I was fitfully sleeping the morning that she died. We are honoring her request to have her ashes scattered next summer, and to have a celebration of life gathering for her instead of a funeral service.

A state of grace and calm prevail in most moments now, alongside occasional rip-currents and waves of grief and sadness. I think about my mom and how much she loved the seashore, especially Cape Hatteras and other places on the Outer Banks of North Carolina,

Imagining and envisioning being there reminds me that we are all a part of this huge ocean of love, family, community and possibility. Storms are inevitable, even hurricanes from time to time. We are all part of this tug and pull, these vast and often unknowable rhythms and cycles of life
Even after the craziest, shittiest and darkest of storms, light returns, love remains. And if we keep nurturing that, remembering those who gave their love while they were here, encouraging us to be grateful for what we have and to do what we can to serve others and something bigger than ourselves, we are unstoppable.

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire” said Ferdinand Foch. My mom’s soul and spirit burned brightly her entire life.  It feels fitting that she passed at this time of year, when the maples, sumacs, oaks and other trees she loved also are aflame, before their leaves too return to where they once came from.

No Guarantees

Many people long to be challenged in worthy and meaningful ways, and Erik and I experienced this a little over a week ago on a two-night, three day backpacking trip in the wilds of Yellowstone. It had been several summers since we had undertaken a longer outdoor adventure, with one-night backpacking journeys being the norm for a while, usually in places closer to Missoula and devoid of grizzly bears.

Doing difficult and uncomfortable things from time to time is good for the heart, mind, body, soul and spirit, whether we do them alone or with a larger number of people.. When we step into the great unknown with others, though, we inevitably shift gears from individual survival to a path of co-existence and cooperation. We also commit to journeying through a landscape with no guarantees of our safety and security. Alone and together, in the natural and in “the real world”, we can feel vulnerable and exposed. Time in nature continually reminds us of our relative insignificance, yet also shines a light on our capacity for humility, grace and compassion as a species.

On our Yellowstone journey we experienced moments of ease, flow and contentment, when setting up camp,  cooking and enjoying meals together, filtering water from high mountain streams, and putting nearly everything up on a “bear rope” when it was not in use.

Yet there were moments of uncertainty and difficulty, too, including slogging up sun-baked, nearly 8,000 foot high south facing slopes choked with non-native plant species such as Dalmatian toadflax and purple thistle. Or leaving trail in grizzly country to navigate toppled trees that had fallen the night before across the path. On our last morning, en route to explore Cache Lake, we encountered the fresh tracks of a mountain lion heading in the opposite direction. We didn’t see any mountain lions, or bears for that matter, on our journey, and that was certainly alright, as we both prefer seeing animals that might see you as a menu item when on day hikes or from wildlife watching vantage points instead.

Where the wild still rules and reigns, cycles and rhythms of nature and life much older than humanity yield their wisdom and knowledge more readily than they tend to in urban and suburban areas. For a blessed few days, we lived untethered to technology, to-do lists, worries about past and future things, sirens, air and motor vehicle traffic, smoke from wildland fires, and an already ramping up presidential campaign. We gained practice slowing down, being present, and using all of our senses to enjoy what was essentially free to experience, the gift of universal and non-human structured time, time in nature. Time well spent, re-connecting with nature, and with each other.

That was good medicine, and exactly what was needed to get out of our heads, and back into our wild hearts.

I wanted to share a personal letter from a naturalist guide whose family I had the opportunity to share Yellowstone’s winter wonders with over this past new year and into earlyJanuary. Martin Loyola and his family know the Galapagos Islands intimately and care about this unique area as passionately as I do about wild places closer to home such as Greater Yellowstone.

I’ll cut right to the chase here to publish, with Martin’s permission, a personal letter he sent out to people worldwide addressing recent legal changes and threats to the integrity of the Galapagos Islands, followed by an appeal for support letter sent to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (U.N.E.S.C.), as these islands are a U.N. World Heritage Site. In English, the new law passed is called “Organic Law of Special Regime for the Province of Galapagos.

Following Martin’s letter and the letter sent to U.N.E.S.C.O. are a few websites where you can learn more and stay involved if you would like to do so.

Here is my friend Martin Loyola’s letter:

My dear friends, 

In the last few months the Galapagos Islands have had some huge changes that reverse the huge conservation efforts of previous authorities in the last 50 years. With those efforts, we have preserved 97 per sent of flora and fauna of this unique paradise, which visitors from all over the world come to see and enjoy.
With the growing population and massive migration to the islands through the 1980’s, it was essential to treat the Galapagos differently from the rest of Ecuador. So, in 1998 our Congress passed a Special Law for the Galapagos and changed the Constitution to control migration to Galapagos.
This law gave huge responsibilities to the National Park of Galapagos (NPG) for conservation, for management of the protected areas, to control tourism, and to preserve a balance between the local community and nature. This law stopped the huge migration, protected the locals with jobs, and gave rights and limitations for the privilege of living in this unique place.
The president of the country controls the Congress and everything else from a political point of view. He has recently eliminated the Special Law for Galapagos. He has created a new law in which the principal threats are:
• The NPG has lost all the control and decisions in terms of conservation.
• The minister of environment manages tourism, conservation and the borders of the NPG in his discretion. So, in future, any land of the NPG can be taken for other purpose.
• The Galapagos is open for investment from anywhere at any time, which means that anybody can build anything in Galapagos and attract massive tourism. 
• Any Ecuadorian citizen can move to and live in the islands.
With all of these massive changes, the Galapagos has little chance of surviving in its present form. Huge numbers of locals have organized protests, parades, meetings and whatever action is possible to make our president listen. But, he rejects all efforts as mere political opposition.
At this stage we in the Galapagos are looking for international help and I am attaching a letter that we sent to UNESCO. I hope you share this with people you know and maybe you can do something like write a letter, publish articles, whatever might help. 
The Galapagos Islands belong to everybody in the world and not only to Ecuador. Please help us.
Best wishes,
Martin Loyola

Following is the Appeal for Support Letter from Galapagos: 


Miss Irina Bokova
Director General UNESCO

Miss Saadia Sánchez Vegas
Regional Director UNESCO
for Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela

The Galapagos Islands, a National Park, Marine Reserve, Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, are one of the most significant archipelagos for science and conservation on Earth. Since their discovery almost 500 years ago, their unique biodiversity and geology have provided information and knowledge about evolutionary processes not only for researchers and naturalists, but also for pioneers in a number of other fields of the social and natural sciences.

While human presence on the islands has indeed been the cause of many of the problems we’re currently facing, this very same irreversible presence has guarded the integrity of the National Park and the Marine Reserve since their respective establishments in 1959 and 1998.

For the past 30 years, the inhabitants of Galapagos have fought to reach a balance that would allow them to live in harmony with nature. The 1998 Special Law for Galapagos provided the legal base and the technical, political and socioeconomic mechanisms that ultimately brought us to the current status, in which biodiversity, protected areas management and human beings have finally learned to coexist and mutually support each other for the benefit of conservation.

In June of this year, the Government of Ecuador issued a new Law for Galapagos, which is returning us to a time when a centralized State would make the decisions over the islands and the inhabitants were mere spectators of how the resources of the National Park and Marine Reserve were used and managed with an eminently economic vision, far removed from the archipelago’s reality.

Among other things, the new Law:

• Spreads responsibilities and tasks of the National Park and Marine Reserve management among a number of central government institutions under the supervision of the Galapagos Government Council (Consejo de Gobierno del Régimen Especial de Galápagos), a Ministry-level umbrella entity with focus on regional planning which however lacks the technical capabilities to manage protected areas and their natural resources.

• Weakens the current participatory decision-making system for Galapagos, especially as it relates to the Marine Reserve, by eliminating the locally based mechanisms that were decisive for the ultimate solution to the incessant conflicts between the artisanal fisheries sector and the protected areas during the 1990’s; under the new Law, the system has been replaced by a government-run Committee that leaves very little room for civil societyparticipation and where we believe decisions will be made from a political rather than a technical point of view.

• Removes the financial support of the National Park and Marine Reserve management that used to come directly from the visitor entrance fees, with the fees now having to be sent upon collection to the central Government account; this takes the islands back to pre-1998 conditions, where our protected areas suffered under a chronic funding shortfall with the resulting consequences for the protection of the environment.

• Establishes a draconian sanctions system that will essentially turn the inhabitants into a group of people permanently under surveillance for potential wrongdoings, without clear mechanisms of defense in case of alleged environmental crimes.

• Limits the exclusive right of the island’s residents to carry out environmental and productive activities, reducing the empowerment of local inhabitants who see themselves as custodians of harmony with nature and defenders of its conservation for future generations. The Law opens the door for an increased flow of migrants who lack the sense and knowledge about harmony and sustainability that can only be reached through a daily coexistence with the environment, which in turn puts the protection of the islands and its resources at risk.

However, our greatest concern refers to the fact that the new Law does not specifically define the borders of the National Park and Marine Reserve, which were described and ratified in the law of 1998 in order to prevent them from being modified for non-conservation-related purposes.

The current Law allows the Ministry of Environment, based not on the islands but in Quito, to modify these borders at its own discretion. In fact, the new Law states that the Ministry will set the protected area borders, de facto ignoring the previously existing limits.

As a result of the above and with special regard to the absence of specifically defined borders, the Ecuadorian State contravenes the Convention on World Heritage, particularly article 2, paragraph 3; article 4; and article 5 a).

The people of Galapagos are reacting to this new Law, which we consider opens the gates to a tourism and productive development that contradicts the principles agreed upon by the Ecuadorian State with the islands and its inhabitants, and that will promote conflicts and potentially increase ctivities that will impact the integrity of the National Park and the Marine Reserve.

Galapagos lived through these scenarios in the 1990s and is not willing to return to a system that over the decades we finally managed to overcome. The inhabitants of Galapagos reject the issuance of this new Law as we find that it has flaws in its content and structure and was approved without the necessary discussion with the population; in consequence, we have asked the Government of Ecuador to repeal it.

Unfortunately, the Government of Ecuador has rejected our requests and insists on maintaining the Law, thereby contributing to an increasing conflict that is now of public domain and unnecessarily damaging the harmonious and sustainable lifestyle that we have been able to reach after decades of trials, errors and lessons learned.

In the name of the inhabitants of Galapagos, the undersigned appeal to UNESCO, as the organization responsible for the well being of the world’s natural and cultural heritage, to take immediate action and (i) intercede before the Government of Ecuador to achieve the repeal of the aforementioned new Law for Galapagos, (ii) dispatch an urgent mission to the islands to directly talk with its community, and (iii) remain vigilant about the process that we have embarked upon to draft a Law that actually represents and safeguards the interests of the protected areas of the archipelago, its biodiversity and the livelihood of its inhabitants.

The People of Galapagos

P.S. Here are a few websites to check out to learn more and stay involved:



On Monday June 22 I was swinging on the porch at nearby Dunrovin Ranch with SuzAnne Miller, where we broadcasted “The Joys of Summer” the afternoon immediately following the summer solstice.

We enjoyed talking about how summertime creates different meanings and memories for people worldwide, and shared observations of the cycles, rhythms and routines humans and their wild and domesticated brethren tend to follow here in Big Sky Country, as well as farther afield.

About mid-way through our 23-minute chat I led participants and viewers through a brief nature connection visualization along a stretch of the Bitterroot River that borders Dunrovin Ranch, so if you have limited time, go to about the ten minute mark on the video to experience and enjoy this meditation.

I hope you’ll take time to enjoy our entire conversation via this YouTube link, though, and that it’ll inspire you to slow down, savor the moment and enjoy the gifts that summer so freely gives all of us.

Feel free to share and forward the link, too, and SuzAnne and I will get together again close to the fall equinox and the winter solstice share the joys of those upcoming seasons.

Enjoy, and here’s that link:  https://youtu.be/KvfTcOg3Dms

MontanaPrideFlag June is Pride Month for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and questioning people (and their countless allies!) worldwide, and this year Pride Montana will be held in our beloved town of Missoula from June 19-21.

Here’s hoping you’ll join us in Missoula, or wherever your feet may be that weekend, to celebrate, acknowledge and express gratitude for the progress we have made over the past decade, and to acknowledge and energize for the remaining work necessary to achieve full equality for all LGBTQ families and individuals worldwide. The non-profit Pride Foundation inspires giving to expand opportunities to advance full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people (LGBTQ) across the U.S. Northwest, including the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. They envision a world in which all LGBTQ youth, adults and families enjoy the freedom to live openly, safely and genuinely.

To honor the vital work that Pride Foundation does, I will donate three dollars to them from every “Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: Four Fun and Easy Steps to Create Your Powerful Nature Connection Sit Spot, No Matter Where Your Feet Are” nature connection sit spot recording purchased between now through Montana Pride Weekend this Sunday, June 21, 2015.

Click here to purchase your portable, fun Nature Connection Sit Spot Recording:


to bring home more nature into your own life and those of others you care about, and know that three dollars from your $13.97 purchase amount is going to a phenomenally important cause. The world is full of stories from people for whom nature has changed, inspired or turned their lives around, and you really never know how important nature connection is to you and your own one wild precious life until you need it most.

Enjoy more nature in your home and work setting, and best of all share it with others.This portable, adaptable, and fun nature connection tool and recording powerfully supports and serves so many people in consistently creating, envisioning and allowing a nature sit spot to enhance our lives.

“You know they say that if you imagine peace and calm, your body experiences it. Well, Hobie’s audio course, “Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!” really brought me to a space of balance and calmness. And best yet? I was sitting at my desk. No need to go anywhere, and most importantly, do anything but breathe”.      -Maureen Calamia, St. James, New York

Pride Foundation is the only non-profit organization I am selecting to support in 2015 through a percentage of PayPal sales, so now is the golden moment to support them through your love of nature and its amazing diversity of all life forms. Take home your own copy of “Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There” (and buy a copy for other nature lovers) and support Pride Foundation, too!

Here’s that PayPal link again:


For more info on Pride Foundation and the vital work they do please visit http://www.pridefoundation.org

Erik and I recently returned from a desert vacation that included sailing on Lake Mead at sunset, enjoying the sights, sounds and zaniness of Las Vegas, and experiencing the profound quiet, haunting beauty and splendid isolation of Death Valley National Park in California. It really was like visiting two different planets on the same vacation, and provided us with many contrasts that we are still digesting and reflecting upon. The National Park Service’s Death Valley brochure describes the area as follows:

The raw desert landscape shapes Death Valley’s human story. Like the mesquite tree, some of its people have deep roots, drawing sustenance from hidden sources. Others blow in on the hot winds of get-rich-quick schemes, then out again on scorched dreams, never anchoring themselves to the land.

The Timbisha Shoshone Native Americans have considered this region home for thousands of years,  surviving and thriving by adapting to natural rhythms and cycles, and to the inevitable curveballs that nature has thrown their way over time.

A few examples of adaptation include congregating near natural springs, moving to higher elevations during warmer, hotter seasons, and using skinny spearing sticks to stab and deflate chuckwallas (a large lizard native to the region) that had wedged and inflated themselves in crevices, thus turning them into high-protein meals.

The Timbisha Shoshone are certainly not alone in their ability to survive and thrive in such a harsh and unforgiving environment. Remnant populations of desert pupfish, some now critically endangered species, inhabit isolated surface or cave waters throughout the park and region. These pupfish once thrived in a large body of water, Lake Manly, created by melting glaciers and a wetter climate. In a few places, you can still see evidence of the ancient shoreline in Death Valley, when Lake Manly was over 100 miles long and over 600 feet deep, making it larger than Yellowstone or Flathead Lakes are today.

The pupfish is a pretty resourceful critter, managing to persist around permanent water sources often less than one foot deep and in water temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. Keep in mind, too, that the water’s way saltier here than in the ocean. We stayed resourceful as well throughout our four-day stay, being active mainly in the early morning and later in the evening, seeking shade whenever possible, and going on a higher altitude hike one day when the temperature soared to over 105 at aptly-named Furnace Creek.

Nearly six thousand feet higher, on a trail starting near Dante’s View, we encountered vast vistas ranging from the alkaline salt flats of the valley floor, in places more than 200 feet below sea level, to snow-covered mountains in the Panamint Range. Wildflowers and flowering cacti greeted us on nearly every turn on the trail, as did fast-running lizards, and one large nonpoisonous snake that made me jump a vertical foot or three before I recovered and was able to laugh about it. We were thrilled to encounter clusters of gorgeous orange desert mariposa lilies (Calochortus Kennedyi) on some of the higher ridges, while ravens and a lone red-tailed hawk rode the thermals above.

Nature’s a place, no matter where our feet are, that brings people together, especially in the desert. It’s a place where people experience a more profound connection to life, creation, others and themselves. It reminds us of how adaptable, resourceful and flexible we all have to be to survive and thrive, and of the different niches and roles we play in this game of life on Earth.

Spending time in Death Valley really brought this all home for me in ways that other places have not, maybe because of the tenuousness of life itself here, or that so much of desert life lives close to or just under the surface, out of sight to the hurried or untrained eye. Many mid-19th century Gold Rush bound travelers died in places not far from where Timbisha Shoshone families gathered near permanent springs and sustained their culture. A few managed to survive or be rescued, and rumor has it that one of the luckier travelers shouted out “Goodbye, Death Valley!”, giving the area its well-deserved name.

Not only here, but world wide, the earth has witnessed plenty of human-generated hot winds, get-rich-quick schemes and scorched dreams over time.

No matter where we live or gather, it’s vital to anchor and tether ourselves to the land, to be in partnership and relationship with it, to nourish it and ourselves. To put down some strong, resilient roots, drawing sustenance from hidden sources, and pass on what we learn to folks who want to do the same, and in turn pass that on to future generations.

These are the real riches in life, to know a place, yourself and the ones you love and care about well. By digging deep, even in Death Valley, we find surprising sources of strength and sustenance that show us how to navigate challenges and opportunities in our own lives.

Desert Mariposa Lily Courtesy of and Copyright by Erik Benson 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Desert Mariposa Lily Courtesy of and Copyright by Erik Benson 2015. All Rights Reserved.


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