Practicing Sustainability

When I read my horoscope at the beginning of this month, I was dismayed to see September–my birth-month and the beginning of fall, my favorite time of the year–described as “turbulent and stressful,” the month where “reality bites.”  That forecast was right–and how!–but it couldn’t predict my response to the challenges September laid on my plate.

My response to this stressful September is acknowledge that indeed, reality does sometimes bite, and I can better keep my balance in life’s inevitable turbulence if I practice what I preach about finding a sustainable rhythm for my days. Helping me in that practice are these words from my earlier list of words to live and work by:

Joyous (I added this one after I wrote the original list)


(That’s the dill in my garden this morning, looking quite surprised
at the turbulent September weather that turned the peaks in the
background white with snow overnight.)

As part of practicing that sustainable rhythm for work and life, I played hooky this afternoon with Richard and headed out on a scenic drive to celebrate the first day of autumn. We’ve been watching the aspen leaves shift from yellow to gold on the mountainsides above town, and then yesterday’s cold front brought new snow to the high peaks. So we decided to revel in fall’s sudden arrival.

Our drive took us up the Marshall Pass Road, once a main railroad route between Colorado and the Pacific Coast, and now a wonderfully winding dirt road that climbs up and over the Continental Divide at over 10,800 feet above sea level. The road’s sinuous course and sometimes wash-boarded surface encourage a leisurely pace and frequent turn-outs provide for stopping to sniff the damp and chill fall air and admire the views.


(We drove through these aspen groves spilling off the shoulders of Mount Ouray, one of the fourteeners–peaks over 14,000 feet elevation, that we can see from our house in downtown Salida.)

We left in sun and wound our way up Marshall Pass into snow showers, passing from open grassy balds gone straw-color with fall, steep slopes splashed with the rusty-orange of three-tip sumac shrubs, through aspen groves with leaves in every shade from deep olive green and lemon yellow to gold and peachy orange. The air grew chill and the day quiet as the road climbed up into shadowy groves where brilliant white lines of snow still clung to Douglas-fir branches and a carpet of yellow and gold and chocolate brown leaves littered the ground.


We told ourselves that we would turn around “soon,” but every corner promised some new sight, so I kept driving upward until at least we reached the pass, where we stopped by the sign marking the Continental Divide and took in the view of distant mountain ridges. Then I turned the car around and we slipped back through the narrow passage of the old railroad cut with its walls framing the upper slopes of Mount Ouray against the gathering snow clouds. (That’s road at the pass above, with Ouray reflecting in a mud puddle.)


Driving downhill, we reveled in the views out over the upper San Luis Valley and the peak-studded spine of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the range whose other side rises in the distance in the photo of the dill in this morning’s garden. (That’s the Sangres from the Marshall Pass Road in the photo above.)

The two-hour excursion didn’t yield any blazing insights. But we had a lovely drive.

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I realized the lesson in today’s time away. Finding sustainable rhythms for work and life takes practice. I can talk about it and write about it all I want, but nothing will happen until I do it. It’s like practicing meditation: I need to remind myself to work in sustainable ways, and when I forget, I need only to stop, pay attention to the fact that I’ve let my days go all hurried and frenetic, that I’ve forgotten to work in a way that allows me to be mindful, reverent, restful, joyous, and loving–and start practicing again. Each time I fail, I just need to notice and take up my practice again. It’s that simple, and that difficult.