High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb

Making our way across the high open tundra, we felt as if we could touch the sky. The High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb is just that, a high altitude trail to be alone with your thoughts in an ever expanding environment. The trail always aiming for a horizon that blurs, where earth and sky are one and the imagination is left with thoughts of danger, beauty and intrigue.

Leaving Denver, we made our way to Berthoud Pass, a good early morning stop to shake out the predawn cobwebs and give our bladders a much needed break from the coffee sludge we had ingested a few hours before.

Over the pass and into the  sleepy ski town of Winter Park, we found our turnoff on to the less traveled Corona Pass Rd, a road full of Colorado railroad history! It was a good thing we had stopped at Berthoud Pass, the dips, bumps, holes and rocks had us bobbing up and down, side to side and all around the cab of the truck like a bad carnival ride. Something our bladders probably would not have tolerated! Several hours of road torture gave way to views of the alpine as we finally pulled up to the trailhead.

On the border of two wilderness areas, James Peak and Indian Peaks, we couldn’t help but admire the incredible beauty of this place. Adventure options abound here. While a wildflower lined trail lead down to King Lake, Lake Shira and Bob and Betty Lakes was inviting in and of itself, today our adventure would take us up the high road, the High Lonsome to Devil’s Thumb.

Late summer snow, wildflowers, low clouds and a wind that brought a sense of an early fall soon to arrive met us as we began our ascent. Our path today, a section of the Continental Divide Trail that averages 12,000′ and very exposed to the elements. Full of big views in each direction, we kept a close eye, and ear, on the weather churning above us.

Making our way across the high open tundra, we felt as if we could touch the sky. The High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb is just that, a high altitude trail to be alone with your thoughts in an ever expanding environment. The trail always aiming for a horizon that blurs, where earth and sky are one and the imagination is left with thoughts of danger, beauty and intrigue.

Leaving the High Lonsome for Devil’s Thumb was an exciting event. A year ago we had planned to be here on a multi-day hike only to cut this portion of the adventure out due to lack of water in one of the lower lakes, a planned overnight stop. This time water was aplenty, we were charged with the anticipation of seeing down in the valley where Devil’s Thumb, Devil’s Thumb Lake and Jasper Lake reside. Serenaded by Marmot and Pika, we stared ahead in awe of the alpine landscape we had come to visit. Plush, teaming with life and unexplored, the valley below calls to the weary high alpine traveler, “come down and rest.”

Peace,

MAD

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Eccles Pass

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

What a beautiful late summer outing, backpacking Eccles Pass. Heading up into the Gore Mountain Range near Frisco, Colorado can be some what of an uphill battle, especially with a full backpack. Though, once out of the gulch the trail levels into picturesque meadows surrounded by mountain peaks. Simply put, the hike up is lush and quiet. Aspen groves give way to mixed pine woods with fresh running streams and a much more laid-back environment versus the hustle and bustle of city life.

Arriving in the high valley, you’ll find open meadows thinning out to rugged peaks and big open skies. Wildflowers abound here, while gentle creeks flow from snowmelt high above bring life giving waters to the valley below. There’s room for everyone and everything here, that is, man, nature and wildlife enjoy the pristine unmaintained landscape of the beautiful Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, just the way it should remain.

We camped just below Eccles Pass, somewhere around 11,500′, out of touch and out of time with nowhere to go, no place to be, relaxing and allowing the natural flow of things to overtake our minds. A room with a view, if you will, positioning our tent to face west at the mountain range, prime for sunset and sunrise and a hopeful moose having dinner among the reeds.

The nights were quiet, so much so you could hear a mouse chewing on a pine cone fifty yards away. Shadows danced all around the meadow under an almost full moon. We were alone with only nature as our cohabitant. We would drift in and out of sleep with anticipation of first light and exploring further.

“What was that?”

“A bear”

“What!?”

“A rabid moose”

“What?!!”

“An alligator…”

The next morning we would wander, aimlessly, exploring fields of wildflowers, cool running streams and eventually up to Eccles Pass for the view of a lifetime. From our vantage point the whole landscape disappeared into further untouched lands waiting to be explored. Trails winding in and out and over further mountain passes. If only we had more supplies we could just walk on in any direction letting our imaginations lead the way.

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

Does a bear sh*t in the woods? I know we do! Finding that “spot” where you need to relieve yourself can be tricky at times. You obviously don’t want an audience, hell, we don’t even want a chipmunk watching, nor do you want someone to find your, well, you just don’t want someone finding “it.” Privacy, secrecy and no mosquitoes coming up behind you is what it’s all about.

“How deep should I make the hole?”

“I don’t know, how full of sh*t are you?”

After breaking camp, we fueled up, loaded up and began our decent back to city life. How we would love to just stay and never go back. Backpacking Eccles Pass, much less anyplace in the Colorado High Country, just seems to sit well with us. We always feel at home and as if the weight of the world and all its frustrations just lift off of us. Perhaps one day we’ll just take that one last look behind us as we disappear into the wilderness for good.

Peace,

MAD

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Love is in the Air

Love is in the air

On Valentine’s Day love is in the air, Letters Say Words Too Honest To Be Spoken. “In their senior year, the young couple eloped — then came back to school to finish the year. Letters, they say, help express feelings that can be difficult to say out loud.”

We were interviewed on CPR by Michael de Yoanna for a Valentine’s Day piece on the radio show Colorado Matters. Indeed, love is in the air! He asked us to share our story and some memories for the show. You can listen to the interview and read excerpts from the show here, Letters Say Words Too Honest To Be Spoken

Peace,

MAD

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To the World Their Baby Never Existed

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, Baby Loss, MAD Hippies Life, Miller Harrell, Debbie Harrell, to the world their baby never existed

“They left the hospital, never to mention their baby again. Their tears were shed in private, and they had to bear the burden of their grief and their pain silently. To the world their baby never existed.”

In October Debbie and I went to a Remembrance Walk for our daughter Shira Rose. We had no idea what we were walking into or the experience we would have…we can’t even begin to express our gratitude for the support and love we have felt since, and during, the Remembrance Walk. It wasn’t until this year that we had even begun to “allow” ourselves to discuss Shira and do something after 33 years in her honor. We began writing, started our blog and talking [perhaps for the first time] with each other about our hidden feelings that had been kept at bay, deep within us, for so many years.

We went to the Remembrance Walk unprepared to grieve, to feel and to somehow be those young parents we were so many years ago who had just lost their daughter. It was all so surreal. Cheryl Haggard, co-founder of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, gave a speech that day which hit a special place within us, we couldn’t help but think to ourselves, “thank G-d we came.” Seeing Shira’s name on signs along the route, hearing her name read aloud and releasing a balloon to the heavens was like coming home. Our daughter has a name, she is our daughter, she lives on and will always be a part of us.

Our experience and story was recently shared on the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Facebook page

“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Co-founder, Cheryl Haggard met Shira Rose’s parents, Miller and Debbie Harrell after speaking at the NILMDTS Remembrance Walk on October 3rd, 2015. Miller walked up to her and in a hushed tone, voice breaking, he simply said, ‘It’s been 33 years for us…

She had asked the audience to look around them that day.

‘Most likely the person standing next to you experienced the death of their precious baby recently. Within the past 5 to 10 years. They probably left the hospital with a beautiful care package lovingly assembled by other bereaved parents. And hopefully a photograph. Whether that photograph was taken by a professional photographer, a nurse or taken by the family themselves, they were encouraged to, and knew it was ok to create those memories of their baby. They left the hospital with empty arms and a broken heart, but they left with something tangible to remember their baby by. Something to hold onto. They have been told about or ‘googled’ support groups and resources nearest to them. They have shared their baby’s story with family and friends and possibly even the world through social medial. They have found acceptance and support by a beautiful community of bereaved parent’s online and right here, today.’

She then asked the audience to look around them again, and this time to look closer…

‘You could be standing next to a mother or a father whose baby died 20 or more years ago. They might be hesitant in telling you about their baby, because they were told it wasn’t appropriate to mention their baby. If you ask them questions, they might share with you their story of how they were never allowed or discouraged to hold or even see their baby. How they were told it wasn’t worth naming their child, and told to move on…try to have ‘another’ one. Forget about this one. They left the hospital, never to mention their baby again. Their tears were shed in private, and they had to bear the burden of their grief and their pain silently. To the world their baby never existed.’

That is, until now.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep has given parents a safe place to share their baby. Share their story. And even share their photographs. Whether they were taken by themselves or taken by a professional. These parents have read our stories, and seen our photographs. Our babies have given their baby’s a face, and our stories have given these parents a voice. Some parents have given a name to their baby…and they are looking for ways to honor their baby’s memory.

Please share with us, especially, if you are a parent that has experienced a loss 20 or more years ago, your experience and how you think grieving and remembrance has changed between then and now. Was there a certain moment in time, when you decided enough was enough? How did you break the silence?”

Peace,

MAD

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Windows in the Cosmos

The loss of a child is heart wrenching. A personal hell that those who experience it suffer in silence and alone. And yet, there is healing, healing that comes from the unseen and hidden world. Windows in the Cosmos.

There are things in this world that go unseen, we were lucky enough to open our eyes and catch a glimpse of what was, what is and what possibilities are out there.

Windows in the Cosmos allow us to see clues, patterns and sometimes answers to what our souls constantly reach out to.

Science, religion and philosophy, to name a few, have only scratched the surface. Detoured by their damned determination to know it all and be right all the time has kept them at bay.

Sometimes it’s better to just stand still and take notice of the events that are unfolding around you. One never knows what they might miss in the midst of the busy ongoing world.

December of 1982 was a trying time for us. In the midst of our own chaos of losing our daughter Shira, much less many factors around this soul wrenching time of our lives, there was a spectacular celestial event taking place we were not attune to. And, while we lived out our own personal hell, many watched in awe as a Super Blood Moon eclipsed fully before their eyes, unbeknownst to our situation.

Early this year, 2015, Debbie and I began a process of healing. Ironically, and perhaps sadly, it took us 33 years to get to this place. But here we are, slowly evolving and processing the most horrific experience of our lives, the loss of our daughter Shira.

In an interesting turn of events, last night we stood under the stars anxiously awaiting that same celestial event that happened so many years ago. Unfolding as it does, slowly before our eyes, along with the memories of our daughter, we anxiously awaited in awe of its beauty, but even more so, an energy of hope and cleansing. Perhaps we have come full circle, and after all, here we are, a bit older, a bit wiser and by and far, still together living life one experience at a time.

The intriguing notion here is not necessarily the Super Blood Moon eclipsing, although that is very cool, it’s more, so much more, it is a personal invitation for Debbie and I to not only experience something larger than life, but resonate with it, come to an understanding, heal and most notably, understand we are not alone in our loss.

Many don’t put much into astrology. We find it fascinating. We also tend to research things down to their very core and take notice of the obvious. The factors surrounding the event 33 years ago have once again surfaced. And, like it was then, we found ourselves dealing with the past without understanding that something else was at play here.

Way too many details to get into, needless to say, they are obvious to us, then and now, and we have taken them to heart and mind and feel the soul connection within ourselves and our daughter.

There are things in this world that go unseen, we were lucky enough to open our eyes and catch a glimpse of what was, what is and what possibilities are out there.

Peace,

MAD

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I am the Father of a Stillborn

I am the Father of a stillborn. There are times when we are powerless in our situations and find ourselves losing it, falling deeper and deeper into an abyss where there is little light and the feeling of being alone is quite overwhelming.

I am the father of three beautiful daughters, one of which was born still when we were mere teenagers. It has taken me 33 years to allow myself to even remotely think about dealing with it. Anger, frustration and the emptiness of not being able to at least hold her has haunted me for years. I suppose people move on, but the pain never goes away.

I grew up in a broken home. With no male figure to show me the ropes, I learned what I could from what limited exposure I had to my grandfather. The rest came from reading the encyclopedia, disassembling electronic components to see what made them tick, reassembling [some] of those parts to make new inventions of my own and lastly hanging out at the local natural science museum where I would find a passion for not only nature itself, but the details of what makes the cosmos go round.

Thank G-d for the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, NASA and an early appreciation for music.

Never being much for crowds, I was somewhat of a loner. Not necessarily an outcast, but perhaps by choice. I just didn’t feel comfortable around a lot of people. I didn’t get them and felt they didn’t get me. Though perhaps in their defense, I didn’t get me. I had no “group” to fit into and for the most part dissociated with society in general.

I never put much faith in political, business and religious leaders, much less anyone else in an authoritative role. Not as to be rebellious, I just saw contradiction everywhere.

Trust in humanity was not there for me. I watched, from a distance, and was confused at how people treated each other. To me, the world seemed a cruel and unjust place. I sunk further into my personal self and focused on the natural world. Animals, weather and the universe at large made more sense to me than the typical household union.

I saw patterns in everything from seashells to the planetary orbits and became intrigued by the notion that there was much more to life than what meets the eye.

I spent most of my early childhood this way. Doubtful most people who knew me even remotely knew the personal hell I lived with daily. I learned not to ask questions simply because I never received an answer.

By the time high school came around, I was a complete wreck. I was just sick and tired of society and was becoming more angry all the time. Nothing, if anything, gave me solace. What, if any, real relationships I had with people just seemed awkward. Spending any time in nature, even if that meant climbing a tree in my yard, was good. Music became my outlet and as soon as I could get a pair of headphones on my head I could just close my eyes and slip into a world of musical mystery. I learned the songs and replayed them time and time again, picking out an instrument to listen to at times, and at other times I just focused on the meaning of the song.

Indeed, between the melodramatic sounds of certain bands and the depth of the lyrics that seemed to ask the same questions I had, I had found a place where I could be alone in my thoughts and feel comfortable.

What came next would rock my world to its very core. I felt cold most of the time, emotionally. But when I first laid eyes on my future wife my heart and mind fought an overwhelming battle of wills. I didn’t want a relationship. But little, if any, resistance could be conjured up within me. It was if I had no choice in the matter. Once we talked, I knew we would never part. She was, in a sense, the female me.

Years later I wrote her a letter and said, “You were hauntingly familiar to me when we met. The closer we became the more I felt the sensation that this was not the first time. You were exotic, cosmic and strange, though somehow familiar as your soul, my soul, our soul, was reunited.”

However, as we would both would soon find out, life is full of curve balls. There are times when we are powerless in our situations and find ourselves losing it, falling deeper and deeper into an abyss where there is little light and the feeling of being alone is quite overwhelming. For reasons beyond our control, my wife [then girlfriend] was sent to live with her father out of state. Not long after, she called me and told me she was pregnant.

We knew what we wanted to do, but, being powerless teenagers we were told different. She was kept out of state, and I was told to stay away. I was 16, immature, clueless as what to do, felt I had no rights and certainly without support. She was in similar fashion. Nights and days went by and the walls began to slowly cave in on us both. If that weren’t enough, long into the pregnancy I received a call from her…our baby doesn’t have a heartbeat. It was born still.

To me that was the last link I would have. Somehow I just thought to myself, our baby was the only link we could ever possibly have, and now she is gone. We are gone. I am gone.

There are wounds so deep that forgiveness could never come.

I don’t recall much after that. Time came and went. Days, weeks, months passed as I sought further to dull the pain. I had turned to drugs and allowed myself to sink deep into an awakened coma. Lifeless, angry, numb and without any determination to care if the next day ever arrived, I maintained a very self-destructive pattern. I just didn’t care.

Did I do things I’m not proud of? Unfortunately. Would I go back and change some things? Who wouldn’t. I was young, immature and out of my mind.

The abyss I had sunk into was bottomless, dark and empty.

Every fear and concern that I had growing up for humanity had expressed itself in the most horrific way. I had nowhere to turn and no one to turn to. The only person I had ever given my heart and mind to was taken from me and our child had died. To this day I am jealous of my wife, if for one simple reason, at the very least she was able to feel our baby move within her, something I would never have the pleasure to know or see. Damn humanity for that, and for treating my wife in such a way.

I’m not quite sure how it even happened, but in time she did return and we did, somehow, get back together. We were both an intense train wreck of emotions, trauma and full of anger, pain and emptiness. 33 years later we’re still working on it. The pain never goes away, the intense feelings are still there as if it were yesterday.

We named our baby girl Shira, which basically means [having a voice], something she was never given for the cruelty of man and their madness. To this day we have no reason for her passing. Being the father of a stillborn hurts, I mean it hurts bad. Being helpless is tough, being helpless as a teenage father is tougher. Being the father of a stillborn and watching your wife suffer emotionally is impossible…there are no words.

My wife and I have each other, we love deeply, have had two more daughters, have become grandparents and live out our lives as if there is no tomorrow. Some days are better than others, but the emptiness remains, it will always remain and our questions will never be answered.

I’ve been told talking about our daughter will help. Thus far it hasn’t, doubtful it will. That empty feeling will never go away, I am the father of a stillborn. It’s something I’ve learned to live with, and [slowly] talk about. One thing is for certain, we have given her a voice and her story, our story, will be heard.

I often wonder if she follows us around, walking the trails with us, holding our hands and lying next us at night.

Peace,

MAD

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Lost Lake

Beautifully adorned, Lost Lake is a deep blue wonder surrounded by sub alpine trees that reach high into the sky.

The winter thaw is upon us, the creeks and rivers are running fast, the lakes are filling back up and the wildflowers are blooming like a fireworks display on the 4th of July. On the menu for today, four moose, three deer, a black bear and an amazing landscape! Hiking Lost Lake in Colorado is an adventure close to Denver full of wildlife, wildflowers and waterfalls.

Many people are coming out from their long hibernation, along with the bears, and heading up into the mountains to enjoy the cool mountain air, the incredible explosion of colors and trade in their skis and snowboards for hiking boots and backpacks.

Hiking Lost Lake is an old favorite which never lets us down when it comes to an abundance of wildlife, wildflowers and waterfalls. And once again, we were not disappointed as indeed we were witness to several moose, deer, a black bear and an amazing breathtaking landscape full of the life we’ve come to appreciate that springtime in the Colorado Rocky Mountains provides.

Nature’s air conditioner! Many of our hikes are broken into segments, not necessarily to stop and rest, although in the high country that is not such a bad idea! There are those places along the trail that pull you off the beaten path to explore rare opportunities to experience the wild and untamed landscape. When the snow melt begins in spring and the creeks begin filling, the rapids and waterfalls can be quite dramatic. Here, the Middle Boulder Creek bursts with an incredible volume of fast moving water creating a spectacular sight. The heavy mist fills the air and makes for a great spot to cool down. Exploring such a hidden gem is remarkable, while sitting and soaking up the roar is equally meditative.

As much as you might want to stay here, there is so much more to see when hiking Lost Lake. Though, a quick mental note to return again is always a good idea.

Moving on, the trail deepens into the sub alpine world as you climb higher and deeper into the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado. Snow capped peaks begin to emerge behind the tall pines and the trail resembles more of a creek than a footpath as the ever increasing evidence of snow melt overtakes the landscape. The land is alive and your curiosity begins to spark the imagination of what lies around the bend.

And just as the sun rises in the morning giving way to a vast array of colors in the sky, you turn the bend, rise over the ridge and find yourself witness to an incredible landscape that could only be compared to paradise on earth. Beautifully adorned, Lost Lake is a deep blue wonder surrounded by sub alpine trees that reach high into the sky. The cloudless morning sky is endless, rich and clear and the breeze is ever so slight though crisp and cool. All around, snow capped peaks beg to be summited.

A few backcountry campers, still in awe of their find, begin to emerge from their slumber to fill their lungs with the mountain air while the birds serenade us all with songs of the high country. It wasn’t that long ago we were dumbstruck by a waterfall, yet now that begins to fade as this new encounter has stopped us dead in our tracks. Mouths wide open and our souls leaping with joy, we are now witness to an awesome natural wonder. Yes, let’s build our dream cabin right here and never leave!

After we collected our thoughts and got passed the awe of what hiking Lost Lake has to offer, we began exploring around and above. It is really quite amazing, while you can keep close to the shoreline, equally fun is to climb high above and look back down for a new perspective. Soaking up such a view not only gives you and bigger and much grander understanding of the landscape, but offers views that would otherwise never be seen. Alas, our time here was growing short, though not short on experience. We took one last good look around and chose the long way back out to the main trail.

Peace,

MAD

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How We Made it 30 years: A Letter From My Husband

how to make a marriage last

It seems that everyone else knows the secret to making marriages last—everyone except for us.

It seems that speculation abounds as to which relationships and marriages will last for any length of time, and for how long.

Everyone has ideas about what it takes to have lasting lifelong love, and what should and should not be taking place in a couple’s life for a relationship to be healthy.

But, what does it take to keep love and a marriage strong?

Now, I know there are a plethora of helpful books, articles and blogs written that discuss just this topic. I should know—I have been reading these since the beginning of our marriage. Well before that, if I’m being honest.

Countless references, I couldn’t even begin to guess how many, from every angle and perspective—religious, spiritual, psychological—and from couples that want to share how they made it to 10, 15, 20, or however many years. I have really appreciated all that they had to say, and I still read them, but from a very different perspective—one where I look to see if we live or have applied any of the suggestions they have made.

It’s dizzying to keep up with it all.

Yu know how it goes…the proper way of conducting yourself during the dating phase, best types of premarital counseling, making sure to stay in shape, always looking your best, saying I love you, not going to bed angry, having date nights, keeping sex alive, developing your own interests, having time apart to miss each other, learning each other’s love languages and so many other dos and don’ts.

Some of these things we’ve done and some we haven’t, and I know that some would definitely not work for us and that we understand some concepts entirely differently than another couple who reads them.

As I sit here, 30 years into a marriage with a man that I adore and love more than I adequately know how to put into words, I can’t honestly give an answer as to how we have been together all these years. All I know is that I love him with every fiber of my being: body, soul and spirit!

Love is more important to me than anything else that this world has to offer, it will be all that will matter to me in the end.

I asked my husband the same question: How have we been married 30 years after marrying so young? His response brought me to my knees, though I’m not sure it provided any clear answers. I’ll let you be the judge.

Click here to read the letter my husband wrote in response [published on Elephant Journal]

Peace,

MAD

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