Diamonds on the Snow

It’s 7:47 am and the weather app on my phone says it’s minus 2F outside. I suspect it’s actually a few degrees warmer, but certainly in the single digits.

There are no clouds in the sky, portending a gorgeous morning once the sun rises high enough to spill her bright and warming light through the tall pines and firs, turning the winter landscape into a visual marvel of tiny diamonds sparkling on the snow.

This weather – these conditions – is why February has always been one of my favorite months of the year.

Invigorating.

The valley fog is making its usual morning creep up the surrounding hillsides. “Lets get moving, boys,” I say. I don’t get an argument.

I quickly dress, layers upon layers, with some extras in my pack. The boys already have their natural layers. I simply add their visibility vests.

Up into the forest we go. Our happy place. Distant snow-covered peaks shine bright white against the deep-blue sky. We enjoy ninety minutes of pure bliss, together, the only sounds our breathing, the crunch of our footsteps on the cold snow, and the occasional caw of a raven flying overhead.

dogs on snowy road
Heading up the mountain this morning, diamonds under the pads of their paws.

I need this time in nature, more than usual today.

A friend is dying. Like so many of my friends of a certain age before her, within a year of reaching her goal of retiring she learned she has cancer. After an initial round of treatment, it has returned and spread. Her prognosis is poor. Pain is her hobgoblin. Putting my retired attorney hat on top of my friend hat, I’m doing my best to help her be her own best advocate, helping her navigate her state’s Dying with Dignity Act from afar. Her family wants her to keep fighting. They love her, of course, don’t want to lose her. She’s lucky in that respect. But she’s ready to accept reality. That tension adds to her challenge, exhausting her. She feels I’m the only one who understands.

To process all this, I need to move. I need to feel the frigid cold air sear my lungs as I work to follow the boys up the steep incline of the snowmobile road as it winds higher through the forest. I need to feel my quads and calves work to push against the snow under my boots as we gain elevation. I need to feel alive. I need for the people I love to be okay, even as they’re negotiating their death.

I need to believe that I won’t be next, because I don’t know if anyone will advocate for me.

pine tree with frost
Morning fog leaves thick, sparkling frost on Ponderosa pine needles.

I don’t enjoy being the person people turn to when the shit hits their fan, but that has been my fate. As a divorce/family law attorney, strangers who became clients paid me to be their advocate, listen to their woes, be there for them, encourage them to start fresh. That was the bargain we struck. It wore me down, burned me out, until I finally had to stop because in the end, the money doesn’t matter.

What I can’t stop, though, is feeling empathy for friends facing life challenges. My instinct is to step up, offer to be their advocate as they navigate unexpected, troubling and turbulent waters. So I do.

But it takes its toll.

Being in and moving through nature gives me the emotional energy to continue helping others. As I ponder the natural beauty through which I traverse – this morning, the sparkling diamonds on the snow – endorphins flood my brain and I feel both stronger and calmer. I’m not only grateful for my own health and well-being, but fortified to continue helping those in less fortunate circumstances. My empathy tank is refilled.

bald eagle, raven in snowy field
A bald eagle guarding carrion from a nearby raven, seen this morning. A reminder that death begets life.

Being in nature constantly reminds me of life’s ebbs and flows, that there’s little we control, that often life is harsh and death unexpected. Watching a beautiful bald eagle defend his food from hungry ravens – my best guess is he’s standing atop a coyote shot by a local rancher – as I drove through my valley this morning was the perfect reminder of the harsh realities all creatures face.

Being with dogs teaches me to be in the moment, to revel in what’s right in front of me at any given time. Dogs are amazing teachers of how to live. Right now is the best! No room for regrets, no putting something off until tomorrow; each day is a gift and we’re fools if we don’t take full advantage.

I’m learning that when a loved one’s life is about to end, all we can do is offer support, compassion and comfort, hoping that when our own time comes, we’ll receive the same.

In the meantime, there are takeaways. Like, live for today. Sounds cliche, but really, no tomorrow is guaranteed so what else do we have?

Don’t put important things off. Don’t put all your eggs in that mythical “retirement” basket, assuming you’ll be healthy enough to tick off items on your bucket list, items you’ve deferred. Chances are good you won’t be.

Attack that bucket list now.

Be dog-like: embrace living in the now. Be grateful for each day. Don’t waste any time on the trivial. Seek the beautiful, the diamonds on the snow. Do what makes you happy. Every. Single. Day.

dogs in snow
Live life, now! Roll in the snow when the mood strikes. Be goofy. Dance like no one’s watching.

16 thoughts on “Diamonds on the Snow”

  1. Funny. I was about to write on your comment on my post, “I know about not putting things off. My dad was 45 when he died.” I didn’t write that. I guess I was supposed to write it here. I admire you very much for what you’re doing for your friend. I honor your friend’s courage and I’m grateful for the ways in which laws governing death have changed in so many states. Such laws did not exist when my dad really needed to go, and wanted to. ❤

    When my friend recently went to MY life-long dream destination, and I went kind of apeshit in a totally new and unfamiliar way (I'm not a jealous or envious person) it turned started a cascade of something I'm now riding. I never had a "bucket list." When I finally had one all it had on it was "cross country ski in Yellowstone." That's still the only thing that's on it.

    The most beautiful thing I know is diamonds on snow and that is, I think, what we are. Today walking with Bear faster and farther than I've been able to in a while (surgery, injuries, rehabs) in the Big Empty in the gorgeous light, with Bear's head under my head, I knew — know — there is no better place for me than here but that doesn't stop me from wanting to be in Zürich at least one more time. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is beautiful and sad and tremendously apt. Plus, I love the photos of Finn–the rarely seen head-on view and the also rarely seen “Finn in a moment of joyful abandon.” He’s usually such a reserved gentleman, at least in your photos. Conall, now … his smiley face and fluffy tail are familiar, and very much enjoyed by this viewer! The bemused way he’s watching Finn roll in the snow is priceless!

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    1. Thank you, Susan. A tough topic and a scenario becoming all too common the older I get.
      I’m left with the impression that we’re far better at helping our pets transition out of this life than we – and our health care providers – are at helping our human friends and family do so.
      Glad you enjoy the dog photos; I worry about boring readers with too many photos of my boys! I’ve discovered that if I get on the ground, Finn’s usual serious demeanor (where are the squirrels?) changes to joy that I’m at his level and he comes close to give me a kiss. Makes for much better photos 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Marc.
      A tough topic, friends ill, dying, needing help and support.
      I wish people would live more for today, less for some far-off some day. If I inspire someone in that regard, I’ve accomplished something worthwhile.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, this strikes close to my home doesn’t it. Just a few thoughts and some cranky observations about life, illness, and bucket lists. I really dislike the term bucket list. Probably because it suggests an end and I can’t go there right now. I will abbreviate it to BL but we do things we haven’t done. Attending the opera, saw the Northwest Ballet preform the Nutcracker, grew gigantic sunflowers for the very first time, learning to paint, draw, and taking a Great Courses to learn to read Egyptian Hieroglyphs, studying the American Revolution, bought a camera with a long lens to study birds, loving the sunshine today and being outside to pull weeds. My deeply felt sadness for your friend. It is utterly shocking when one gets this kind of news. It’s not about courage, and fighting, and being a warrior and all that crap. Meant with the utmost sincerity but really not true. It comes down to treatment. Is effective or it’s not. Is the treatment worse than the disease? those are the choices. My goal is to live in joy and die without pain. I’m so pleased you are supporting your friends decision to forgo any more treatment and be comfortable. It is the only thing she can control. Peace. Hugs to the dogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it does strike close to your home, and for that I’m so sorry, Shelle. You, sadly, are one of those friends I thought of when I wrote about those who, within a short time of retiring, got the horrid cancer diagnosis or endured some other life-altering health crisis. I’ve watched from afar, with admiration, as you’ve undergone several truly difficult treatments and come out embracing the life you’ve created with your partner, reveling in and making the most of every moment. Learning to read Egyptian Hieroglyphs!
      Your goals are what we all need to aspire to: live in joy, and die without pain.
      You probably don’t realize it, Shelle, but with your attitude and approach, you’ve had a profound impact on how I live my own life, and for that, I’m grateful to you ❤

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  4. I’m sorry to hear about your friend. This post hits home for me. I’m a procrastinator of the highest order and always put off things I want to do until “I’m not so busy”, or “maybe when I retire.” Now that I am dealing with health issues I realize those times may never come. It’s been a dream of mine to live in the mountains and I always make excuses why it can’t happen. I’ve decided just recently that I don’t care anymore about all the reasons I can’t do it and I’m going to start working hard on finding all the reasons it can be done.

    Liked by 1 person

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