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Elan Vitae


  • Darien Gibson


Throughout my life I have loved exploring the local scenery by hiking nearby trails. Having lived in such picturesque locations as Telluride, CO, Jackson,WY and Bozeman, MT there have been no shortage of gorgeous hikes at my disposal. Hiking has been a refuge for me - a way to smell fresh air and feel a connection to creation around me. For me, it has always been an amazing time of solitude and contemplation....until I got a busy, active bird dog who not only enjoys hiking but actually REQUIRES it. At first it seemed overwhelming to have a pup that I had to get out for long hikes (rain or shine) and who I had to keep track of, lest she wander off chasing a scent- hiking was no longer my time of solitude and solace. But as I embraced the exercise demands of my little brown dog I found I could experience hiking in a new way...and even gain some wisdom and insights about life and relationships. Following are a few simple but, for me, profound truths I am learning from my many hikes with my brown dog, my "Josie Girl".


Have you ever noticed how excited a dog gets when you get ready to go on a walk? My dog Josie could be sound asleep in the next room and if I put my shoes on she is immediately by my side jumping with excitement at the prospect that I may be taking her with me. She rushes out to the car wiggling the whole way and once inside runs to and fro from window to window anticipating the fun ahead. And once at our destination, she doesn't amble slowly out of the she bursts on the scene electric with all the adventure that lays ahead on the trail.

I can't help but wonder if I were to approach my life with a similar level of excitement and enthusiasm how different might it look? I can often catch myself not wanting to get too excited about anything for fear it won't be as good as I imagine, leaving me disappointed. What would it look like if I allowed myself to really get excited about events and activities and people? Perhaps I could experience my life more joyfully and relish it if I allow myself to embrace every aspect with enthusiasm.


When Josie is out in the woods or in a park she is fully present, taking in every smell, sight, sound and taste. Even if we make two trips to the same park in the same day...the park is like a new experience for her each and every time and she seems to never tire of exploring every inch with her tail happily wagging and senses on high alert.

Meanwhile, I may be so pre-occupied with a project at work with a deadline fast approaching, or replaying in my mind a recent conversation that didn't go as I would have liked. Tying myself in knots over ifs and buts and an infinite number of possible outcomes until I am so inside my head that I have missed the opportunity to soak in the beauty that surrounds me. To be refreshed by cool air, or the soft grass beneath my feet or the warm sun on my face and the sound of children laughing and dogs playing. When I do allow myself to get out of my head and just be present, the calm that rests on me is palpable and instead of finding myself a nervous wreck worrying about things beyond my reach I am more often humbled and able to find peace among the chaos and even a renewed sense of hope with a more calm perspective.


My brown dog has a certain penchant for water, mud and all things nasty...that is just part of the unspoken agreement in owning a bird dog. Since she is my first, this was a bit of a shock for me. If there is water she will wade in it, if there is mud she will drag her belly through it and if there is something nasty smelling she is sure to roll in it with unadulterated joy. She is rarely more excited than after she has gotten messy and wants to come share the "love" with me. I am not a neat-nick but I have learned that it is wise to have special covers for my back seats and a towel to wipe Josie down.... and accept that enduring nasty smells, hosing her down and washing her in the yard is a regular part of life.

Learning to let go of the need for everything in my life to be neat and clean and appear tidy has been a difficult, but oh so necessary lesson for me. Perfection is unattainable and you can make yourself crazy believing that it is. I think of all the things I never tried for fear of failure, or chances I didn't take, or people I didn't open up to for fear of it being messy. So I found myself, neat, clean, tidy and alone- lonely. Life is messy and in particular relationships - you have to be willing to take a little emotional messiness and imperfection (yours and theirs) in order to experience the beauty, wonder and joy. So I continue to try and take a cue from my brown dog in this area and let myself get happily messy from time to time.


Josie can have a tendency to follow hard after a scent, but she is always good about coming back to check in with me. In fact when there is a group of us hiking or cross country skiing she will often run up ahead and then check in by running back all the way to the last person in the group as if to make sure the entire group is still together. In early summers when there have been horse flies nipping at her bum she comes running straight back to me for some assurance and comfort, to then take off again on her trail.

While it is important for each of us to have our own internal compass, I also have found in my own life that it is good to have some close friends in whom I can confide and who can help me stay the course when I am feeling discouraged or offer some reassurance when I am feeling insecure. I love having freedom to choose my path but have found it not only wise, but at times essential to let other people into my "pack" to consistently navigate the roads of life and stay true to myself and share the joys and sorrows along the way.


At the end of a good long hike (and after the much dreaded hosing off and wipe down) Josie tends to curl up and sleep hard. There have been a few times when I have tried to rouse her early in the morning after a day of hiking and she would have none of it. She knows when she needs rest and is fine taking it.

We live in a world of "go, go, go"..."do everything and do it well"..."if you stop, you become stagnant" - but in truth we all need times of rest and respite, be that for physical or emotional restoration. It may be inconvenient and even humbling, but it is necessary. Listen to what your heart and body need and do not apologize or berate yourself for those needs. Embrace rest in all its forms so you can be renewed and ready for the next adventure.


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