Is Commercialization a Threat to the Purity of Trail Running?

mcafeeknobwintersnowPhoto: roanokeoutside.wordpress.com

Last month I set foot on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia for the first time since I took up running in 2007. For six years I had been purchasing books about the AT and accumulating hiking, fast-packing, and running gear. I completed my miles that day with Nathan handhelds, INKnBURN clothing, an UltrAspire pack, and Montrail shoes.

I can’t say how much money I have spent over the years on the sport of trail running, but I do know that as I ran along that famous trail, the last thing on my mind was what to buy next. And yet trail business is booming.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s annual report from 2010, the outdoor recreation industry boasts $289 billion in retail sales and services as well as 6.5 million jobs in America.

To argue that this bad-wolf commercialization is a perversion of the purity of our sport is in some ways ironic. Think about how you first heard or this sport. How many of us would be running trails if we hadn’t read Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, Dean Kanazes’ Ultramarathon Man or watched JB Benna’s Unbreakable?

According to a study by Gary C. David and Nick Lehecka, the book Born to Run not only increased the visibility of trail and ultra running, but completely revolutionized the shoe industry. Their study quotes The Economist in 2011: “Ever since Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run hit the bestseller lists in 2009, Zappos, an online shoe retailer, has struggled to keep up with demand for minimalist footwear.” Similarly, Vibram saw sales jump from $470,000 in 2006 to $50m in 2010.

If you have:

  • read Born to Run
  • recommended running books to others
  • read or written shoe reviews
  • accepted free gear or nutrition in exchange for a review
  • listened to a sponsored running podcast
  • paid for a race entry
  • accepted a goodie bag from a race
  • accepted a cash prize from a trail event
  • clicked on a targeted Facebook or Google ad related to the outdoors
  • bought running gear on sale
  • supported race directors making a living from well-run, well-respected events
  • worn a promotional buff
  • supported or cheered for a company-sponsored team
  • become an ambassador for a company you believe in
  • recommended a product to a friend
  • bought or read a running magazine
  • become a sponsored athlete
  • entered a running-related giveaway
  • attended a book signing
  • added a promotional badge to your blog

… then you have already participated in the commercialization of this sport. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Does commercialization prevent us from enjoying the Olympics? The Superbowl? Perhaps it does. Or perhaps we wait for the commercials with anticipation, record them, analyze them, and share them on social media.

According to ultra168.com, commercialization may have more benefits than drawbacks. “Take one look at how well the North Face 100 is doing and what it has done for Australian trail and ultra running. It has attracted the likes of Kilian and Ryan Sandes to our shores and put us on the map as a destination to come and visit. Sure the companies behind this have deep-rooted motivations to sell more gear, but should we begrudge them that if we benefit too?”

It’s trendy to speak out against commercialization but the truth is that most of us are not mountain hermits. We live in a society of mass consumerism and eagerly participate in that system. We love swag. We’ll take free stuff even if we don’t need it. Can we really compartmentalize our sport so it never touches our morning Starbucks, Mac laptops, or Amazon accounts?

As avid trail runners, our job is not to keep the money out, but to keep this sport honest. So far we’re doing a good job.

When Leadville 100 crossed the line from a respected race to a greedy money-grab, we strongly objected. Hardrock 100 removed Leadville as a qualifier for its event, accusing the race of failures in “environmental responsibility, support of the hosting community, and having a positive impact on the health of our sport”.

The popular site run100s.com removed any and all mention of Leadville 100, stating that “They’re no longer a part of the sport of ultrarunning, but simply a business venture.”

Instead of hunting down prize money, our top athletes care about and defend our sport. In a Runner’s World article, Karl Meltzer said about the new Leadville: “Life Time is in it for the money. This company is road runner, gym-based folks that do it purely to make a profit.” The gatekeepers of our trails are loyal and effective.

Another point to make is one of perspective. Although our sport has grown by leaps and bounds, it is still comparatively low-key compared to the commercialization around activities like Cross-fit or obstacle racing in the recent years. With the exception of a small handful of races, we don’t see anywhere near the bonanza of sponsors that invest in other booming events.

Still, it is not a low budget that makes our sport pure. It is the care we put into our trails. It is our willingness to move across nature with old friends and new friends, suffering when we don’t have to. Our sport’s purity lies in the value we place on resilience, determination, and giving back. We are trail runners whether we pay hundreds of dollars for gear or just head out with homemade car-tire sandals.

When I motivate people to get on trails, I know full well that my encouragement is directly contributing to a commercialization of the sport. But the payoff is worth it when I see someone finish their first ultra, win their first trail race, or grow monstrous quads.

When the crowds do get overwhelming, I can simply retreat to my backyard mountains and enjoy miles of commercial-free solitude. In a few more years, when my Montrails are completely disintegrated with gaping holes and paper-thin soles, I’ll finally descend from the mountain and buy a new pair of shoes.

 Appalachian-Trail-SignPhoto: appalachianwoman.com

 

This article is part of the April 2014 Trail Runner Blog Symposium. This month’s topic was: Is trail running becoming too commercialized?

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Should Children Run Endurance Events?

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Goodbye to the Farm (Final Photo Essay)

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It is often the rejected, unposted, and discarded photos on your phone or camera that tell the true story of your life. After spending more than four months living on the farm, I have tons of leftover shots. Here are the photos that never quite fit into an album or didn’t seem relevant at the time. Now I realize that they each tell a perfect story of The Wolfestead. Enjoy!

BOOKS

One of my favorite things about the farm was coming to a house that was full of books. There was a wide variety of books in almost every room. It’s been a while since I was in a house like that. In three months I picked my way through The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, and a lot of Shel Silverstein. Jarrett lent me the Gnostic Bible. There wasn’t enough time to read everything I wanted, so I ended up borrowing Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, and Rudyard Kipling.

As much as I love my Kindle, some texts (i.e. poetry) are just better page-flippers. Since I can’t carry a respectable book collection in the RV, I have taken to memorizing many of my favorite poets so I can keep them near my heart, always.

So far I can recite:

  • Sonnet 18 by Shakesphere
  • Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
  • Invictus by William Ernest Henley
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
  • If by Rudyard Kipling
  • There is pleasure in the pathless woods by George Byron

I roll over their phrases on my runs, on our long drives, or just any time I feel like it. Even better than reading them on a page is the act of reciting them from memory out loud to an audience of trees deep in the woods. It shows the trees that the paper-skins of their ancestors were not all disgracefully turned into bills and junk mail. Some of them still hold words that move men.

I am currently memorizing A.A. Milne:

Spring Morning

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
Down to the stream where the king-cups grow-
Up on the hill where the pine-trees blow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.

If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
You’d sail on water as blue as air,
And you’d see me here in the fields and say:
“Doesn’t the sky look green today?”

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
“It’s awful fun to be born at all.”
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
“We do have beautiful things to do.”

If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You’d lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You’d say to the wind when it took you away:
“That’s where I wanted to go today!”

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

EGGS

When “going out for breakfast” means walking outside and picking your eggs directly from a hen’s behind, you know you’re doing well for yourself. We had buckets of eggs at our fingertips: both chicken and duck. The hens were laying 30-40 eggs when we left, and those numbers were only going up. Several of the eggs were sold via Nate and Mel, but a lot of them ended up in our bellies. We’ll miss these colorful eggs and the gorgeous hen-ladies they come out of.

FOOD

The food sources at The Wolfestead were impressive. The canned veggies from the garden were my favorite (asparagus, beets, and pickles!), but the protein sources were also booming. The bunnies were being sold as both meat and pets and the first batch was culled shortly after we left. Nate went out as often as possible during hunting season, but we didn’t score any meat this year. I included a photo of a delicious burger Shack cooked up for me.

WOOD

Gathering, stacking, and chopping wood was my favorite physical activity on the farm. I loved hauling that stuff off the mountain. Some of those logs were pushing 50lbs each–difficult but rewarding work. The goats were huge fans of the high wood piles, which they used for hill repeats. When we first came to the farm, Shack helped Nate climb a tree to free up another tree that had been caught on the way down. We couldn’t do it, but we kept trying every so often, always unsuccessfully. Shortly after we left there was a storm that finally blew it to the ground.

SNOW

Aaaaaand the SNOW. Who can forget the snow? It was a brutal winter and although I had a blast in the snow for the first couple of months, near the end it started getting old. As long as I could get outside, I was golden; when the terrain and temps made that impossible, I was restless. Still, the views were spectacular in the desolate woods and I often felt like I was in a winter wonderland. California boy Shacky stuck it out like a trooper–I was so impressed with his winter resilience.

“Only he can understand what a farm is, what a country is, who shall have sacrificed part of himself to his farm or country, fought to save it, struggled to make it beautiful. Only then will the love of the farm or country fill his heart.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A million thanks to Nate & Mel Wolfe for hosting us, sharing their animals, and teaching me how to shoot a gun.

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Should Children Run Endurance Events?

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Every time I post a photo of the Redden kids on Facebook, I see the same type of comments: lots of admiration, some shock, some concern, and some downright anger.

Seth and Sabrina Redden are the proud parents of two unusual kids. Tajh (male, 11) and Teagan (female, 9) are both avid trail and ultra runners. Last year, Teagan ran her first 100K and 100-mile distance. She was nominated for the Arizona 2013 Rookie of the Year Award at mcdowellmountainman.com. Needless to say, her competitors were older than her by a large margin…as they usually are.

Team Redden is so mind-blowingly young and accomplished that Outside Magazine covered them in an article, The Art of Raising Young Ultrarunners.

View Teagan Redden’s race results.

Like the Redden kids’ Facebook page.

The debate as to whether children should be running endurance events rages on. However, it is not an entirely new concept. Children have been running marathons for a while now.

Data from the Twin Cities Marathon shows that between 1982 and 2005, 277 children have crossed the finish line ranging from ages 7 to 17 with finish times from 2:53 to 6:10.

Unfortunately, there is little scientific data on the effects of long distance running on children.

This topic intrigued us enough to chat with Seth and Sabrina Redden as well as a pediatrician on the Natural Running Network Podcast a couple of weeks ago. On the show, we discuss veganism for kids, thermoregulation in children, and a child’s eagerness to please his/her parents.

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Direct Podcast Link HERE

Here are some things that didn’t make it into the podcast:

Colby Weltland and Ed “The Jester” Ettinghausen

I had hoped to have child prodigy Colby Weltland on the show. Unfortunately, his family was traveling for a race and they were unavailable.

Colby is a 13 year old kid who has already finished several 100-mile races and aspires to be youngest Badwater finisher. I also spoke to his close family friend and pacer, Ed “The Jester”. An accomplished ultra runner, Ed has thousands of miles of experience and has mentored/paced Colby to most of his finishes.

When I asked for his insight, he wrote the following:

Just for more fodder on the subject, I know one of the concerns people have is that running at a young age will do physical and emotional harm to kids. My four kids have never run an ultra, but have run many marathons, running their first one at the ages of 8, 9, 11, and 14 (and that was because she’s a type 1 diabetic, otherwise she would have run her first one at an earlier age).

They’re all young adults now and are just fine, physically and emotionally. My 21-year-old daughter who was 8 at her first marathon just did the Disney World Half Marathon and works for Raw Threads a clothing company that specializes in running attire. She is a vendor at many of the big marathons and she still loves the running world.

I was told by many people that running a marathon at such an early age would damage her growth plates. I feel really bad now, because apparently it did stunt her growth–she’s only 5’11″!

And for me personally, although I didn’t run marathons as a kid, I did run my first two at the age of 17, and three more at the age of 18. Thirty-four years later I set three American age records: 200k, 24-hour, and 6-day, so I don’t think running long distances as a teen hurt me too much. Anyway, just thought I’d share that with you.

Oh, and one more family of young ultra runners. Brandon and Cameron Plate are from Oklahoma. They’re 12 and 13 and have both completed two 100+ mile races. Colby & I and the two of them ran together at Silverton 1,000 and ATY last year. You can find their stats on Ultrasignup as well.

Jester on . . .

Follow Colby’s blog.

Join the Run Jester Run Friends Facebook page.

Remember: There are many great programs out there like Girls on the Run and the 100 Mile Club that help introduce kids to the joy of running. They don’t have to run extreme distances to stay healthy and find a love for the outdoors.

You can check out our other running podcasts at the Natural Running Network HERE.

What are your thoughts? Should children be allowed to race ultras?
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History of the Popularity of Ultrarunning From 1585 to 2010

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Please, Don’t Burn The Bacon: A Collection of Essays & Paleo Recipes (Book Review)

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This book is best enjoyed with a hearty side of bacon.

Author Crista Scott has cooked up something special in her new book, containing more than 75 bacon recipes and mouth-watering photography by Michelle Evans.

Crista has just released an e-preview of her cookbook to give you a taste of what’s to come. I was thrilled (and hungry) to scroll through her original creations.

Crista gets a direct and unlimited pass to my heart with her BAKED AVOCADO WITH EGGS AND BACON recipe, while nailing the complex sweet and salty combo with her DARK CHOCOLATE CHIP AND BACON COOKIES. (OMG!!!)

See for yourself:

And THIS!

Is there anything more inspiring than a perfectly cooked slice of bacon?

You can purchase ten teaser recipes yourself for a minimum payment of $3 via Paypal at HERE (insanely reasonable and so worth it!).

This is just a small example of the dishes to come in the expanded version of Please, Don’t Burn The Bacon: A Collection of Essays & Paleo Recipes. Expect more awesomeness in hard copy.

About The Author & Photographer 

Crista Scott is a writer, health coach and foodie with a not-so-secret obsession with bacon and cooking. She is also a recent graduate, receiving her Master’s Degree in Psychology. She hopes to pursue her Ph.D and continue to research flow and well-being. In her free time she likes to trail run, crochet owls, do yoga, and create new recipes in the kitchen.

Crista blogs full time at PlantMeetsPaleo.com and RunEatCreateRepeat.com. She believes that the mind and body are connected and living a balanced life includes a healthy (and delicious!) diet.

Follow her on Instagram @CristaScott
Twitter: @Crista_Scott

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to e-mail her at iburnedthebacon@gmail.com.

You can also find Michelle Evans’ Flickr account HERE or follow her photography Instagram account @MichelleAPhotography.

For more book info, visit PleaseDontBurnTheBacon.com.

Well done, Crista!

Disclaimer: This post is not responsible for any drool or drool-related injuries.

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GET THE RECIPES HERE!

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Stronger Now

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I am sprinting downhill through shin-deep, unbroken, soft powder snow. Every step is an effort–like trudging through quicksand. I am on my fifth mile, running home.

I am holding a plank inside an igloo I helped build. My toes are digging into the cold ground and my clothes are covered in hay. My abs are burning.

I am hauling logs down from off the mountain for firewood. I used to carry one big log at a time, but now I can hold two. My steps are sturdier and a little faster.

I am getting stronger.

I have never considered myself to be very strong. On the contrary, I was raised with the cultural belief that men were the protectors, the pickle-jar openers, the only ones capable of lifting. Women belonged in the kitchen.

Interestingly, this didn’t bother me all that much. I could wave off the things I didn’t want to do because they were “too hard”. I didn’t have to carry heavy things or stand for very long. I was comfortable.

When I took up running in my 20s, I grew physically strong enough to challenge those gender stereotypes, but it created friction in my relationship.

Suddenly I could lift more, pull harder, stay on my feet longer than my now-ex boyfriend. This didn’t make me feel proud or happy or liberated. Instead, I felt betrayed. I had invested in this worldview and it had let me down.

Underlying that betrayal was fear. I had always counted on men to protect me–and now it was obvious they couldn’t. They were weaker than me.

It took me some time to shift my gender mindset from one of submission to one of equals. When I figured out how to do that, I no longer needed to be angry when I saw weakness. The expectation that all men were stronger was no longer there.

Men were now free to be themselves without judgement from me, and I was free to raise my personal standards. No one should have the burden of being stronger than me all the times, nor should there be a limit for how strong I can become.

Perhaps you are stronger than me. But if you’re not, that’s ok–I’m still going to be strong just on my own.

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How to Love a Runner

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Free Race Entry Giveaway for the Bruneau Beast Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K, 5K

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“I will argue until I die that this is the toughest marathon on the planet.” –Wayne Ebenroth, Race Director

Race Date: May 3, 2014

Race Location:

27608 Sand Dunes Road
Mountain Home, ID US 83647

Ever try running on sand dunes? It is both incredibly hard and crazy fun. This race was filmed last year for the television show Outdoor Idaho.

Choose your distance (5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon) for a sandy run!

More race info at: http://bruneaubeast.com/register/

To enter, simply leave a comment below telling me why you’d like to conquer this challenge. If you share on social media or your blog, you get an extra entry for each share. Be sure to tell me where you shared!

The winner will be chosen at random on March 24, 2014 and contacted directly.

Good luck!

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75% OFF The Summit Seeker Sale

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It’s the sixth annual Read an Ebook Week over at Smashwords, and in celebration The Summit Seeker is 75% off starting today until March 8th as part of a site-wide promotion.

Read an Ebook Week is an international celebration of ebooks in which thousands of authors, publishers and retailers feature free and discounted ebooks to help promote the joys of e-reading to the world’s readers. Each year, Smashwords authors are the most active participants, and the store features the largest selection of participating titles.

Until March 8th, you can purchase my book, The Summit Seeker, for a measly $1.25 USD. The price goes back up after this week, so be sure to take advantage of the discount!

Take advantage of The Summit Seeker discount.

Use the code REW75 at checkout for 75% off.

Also, please consider leaving a short Amazon review if you have read the book. The reviews are valuable to me out as a new author.

Available formats: epub, mobi, pdf, rtf, lrf, pdb, txt

Browse all eBooks on sale this week.

Like the official Read an Ebook Week Facebook page.

Read an interview with Rita Toews, the woman who created Read an Ebook Week. 

Network with fellow Smashwords authors and readers on the official Smashwords Facebook page.

Happy reading!

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How Taking a GPS is Like Taking a Lover

mount baldy

In my mind, I am running fast and free in my short-shorts, thunder thighs and glorious glutes. My dreads are flowing behind me in the crisp mountain air and my mind is free of mileage estimations.

I am rocking California’s Mount Baldy summit, a favorite of Southern California’s elite trail runners and the grandest summit of the San Gabriel Mountains. Old Baldy (10,064 ft) stands as the third highest massif in SoCal, behind San Gorgonio Mountain (11,499 ft) and Mount San Jacinto (10,804 ft).

Dr. B.H. Fairchild and Fred Dell built this particular trail in 1889. The men had visions of a great observatory at the summit—a dream that never materialized. The Devil’s Backbone Trail came along later in 1935 and took its well-earned place as the main route to the summit.

In my mind, this is child’s play—a jungle gym of sweeping vistas and stunning rock formations. The smells of oak, bay, fir, cedar, and pine are intoxicatingly inspiring.

In reality, I am slogging, hands-on-knees, and yelling up ahead for my boyfriend to tell me how much further we have to go. He’s the one wearing the GPS and I desperately need him to feed me some data. And how is he walking so damn fast??

baldy summit

Technology is complicated. So is love. I don’t claim to fully understand either, but after thousands of trail running miles all across North America, I’ve collected some general guidelines about each. They are surprisingly similar.

Taking a tech device out on the trial is similar to taking a lover: The idea seems great in theory but there’s a chance you’ll end up miserable.

A good GPS is like a good romance: reliable but not promoting obsession, motivating but not overly demanding, and consistent while still allowing for spontaneity.

A bad tech device is a bad lover: screaming at random times for no particular reason, making you feel terrible about yourself and your abilities, and confusing you with incomprehensible buttons and triggers.

As enamored as we are with the ideal image of that powerful and gadget-less trail runner bounding nearly-nude over mountains with his beard flowing three feet behind him, chances are we have more in common with the huffing mid-packer trying to decide which hills to walk and glancing nervously at his beeping GPS while he scarfs down yet another gel.

A tech device can only take away from our transcendent trail experiences if we allow it to. Our tools should propel us forward, not hold us back.

Running technology should worry about the details so we don’t have to, clearing our minds to drink in the scenery and stay in the moment. It should help us share a particularly beautiful route with friends and help us plot our next adventure together. It should teach us to be more aware of our bodies and motivate us to do our best.

If your tech device does none of these things, it’s time to consider a new relationship. Kick it to the curb and run away without ever looking back.

If you are lucky enough to have a healthy relationship…. err, GPS…. then you already understand that these things are not surgically attached to you. Every once in a while, let out your hair and go alone. Take a day where adventure trumps athleticism and speed bows to solitude.

I don’t care what your projected pace is—there’s always a day to watch the sunrise, turn over a rock, and forget what time it is.

mt baldy

This article was selected as Editor’s Choice for the February 2014 Trail Runner Blog Symposium. You can view it HERE at trailrunnermag.com.

This month’s topic was: Are tech gadgets more help or hindrance on the trail?

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

 

How to Love a Runner

“The hardest part of being in a committed relationship with an endurance athlete is having to redefine normalcy.” (Chronicles of an Endurance Athlete’s Wife)

This was one of my favorite podcasts so far–a candid look into what it takes to love an endurance athlete. The voracious appetite, the disgusting shoes laid out to dry, the hours of absence during which family is not supposed to be worried… how is it that we find partners at all?

On 100 Miles is Not That Far, Stephanie Catudal tells the full story of what it’s like for her to be married to a 115-mile/week athlete, and it’s not always pretty. We discuss her points and add our own experiences to the discussion, including my thoughts on goat-love.

Listen in!

howtolovearunnerDirect Podcast Link HERE

Links to Stephanie’s original work:

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Nothing is Safe to Love: Valentine Lessons From Lola the Goat

Lola’s sister Dora continues to grace The Wolfestead with her love.

Lola the Goat passed away a few days ago, but not before she taught me everything I need to know about love. A few days after setting foot on The Wolfestead and meeting this wonderful creature, my mind was abuzz with organizing all the homestead animals into two neat categories:

  • Safe to Love
  • Not Safe to Love

On the Safe to Love side, I noted the dogs, cats, four goats, and one chicken. The duck was on the fence.

On the Not Safe to Love side, I had most of the chickens and all the bunnies.

The Safe animals were not to be eaten. The Not Safe would be food someday and that might break my heart.

Then Lola fell sick and died. Unexpectedly. Accidentally. Even though I had already loved her.

Then more bunnies were born and some of them stole our hearts and were moved to the Safe list. The duck also waddled onto the Safe list. My lists got all muddled up and changed.

That’s what love does to us, doesn’t it? It muddles us up and changes our minds. It also gives us courage to love more things.

This Valentine’s day, unguard your heart once and for all. Make that phone call. Send that text. Take that chance. Sing that sappy love song and mean it.

Nothing is safe to love, and that’s exactly why we must love everything as hard as possible.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

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Life, Death, and a Goat Having a Seizure

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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