echo '';

Vuja de

I’ve been writing about various facets of the natural world for the newsletter of the Nature education non-profit I started in the Mountain Park in Beulah, my small southern Colorado town, for a long time. The recent issue that was just published begins the eighteenth year of the Mountain Park News.  I can recall writing articles on all sorts of birds and wildflowers, bears, trees, mountain lions, pronghorn, bobcat, pleasing fungus beetles, squirrels, owls, biological soil crusts…but, surprisingly, I don’t recall ever writing about one of the area’s most common and iconic species, Odocileus hemionus. If my memory is correct, the pages of Mountain Park News never included an article specifically about mule deer. As of the recent issue, that is no longer the case.

There has been much statewide press about the significant population decline of mule deer in Colorado over the past decade. According to a recent Denver Post article, mule deer population estimates in Colorado are down about 36 percent, from 614,100 in 2005 to 390,600 in 201 (compared to a 10% decrease across the entire western US). Disease, habitat loss due to development encroachment, and road mortality are among the likely reasons for the decline according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Well, maybe they should do a count in Beulah; considering how many deer with the big ears and short, black-tipped tail there are in the valley, maybe all those missing mule deer are all hanging out here. It is a rare day that I don’t see several mule deer while driving or walking in Beulah.

Just the other day, on a windy and chilly late afternoon walk in the park, I came across eight deer – one young buck, a few does, and several adolescents – that watched me but hardly seemed concerned about me as I walked by within around 20 feet of the closest one. A couple weeks ago, I was walking down the steps to my house (which is just across the road from the park). Looking at my mail and not paying much attention as I’ve walked down these steps a million times, I looked up to see a doe no more than ten feet in front of me, standing on the steps. I stopped. She turned and took a couple of step towards me. Hmm. I’ve seen video clips of how aggressive deer can be. So I backed up a few steps, made some noise, and she finally ambled off. Slowly.

The minimal snow so far this season is keeping the dried forbs and grasses readily available for our area’s mule deer to fatten up on as the winter approaches. When the snow cover is deep, shrubs and trees make up most of their diet. I recall many times being out in the park on skis or snowshoes on cold days with the landscape covered in deep snow. Working hard to keep myself warm, I’d watch deer bite the needles off ponderosa pines and wonder how many calories they are were actually getting from those needles that would get them through the cold night ahead. Mountain mahogany and Gambel oak are also common winter foods for mule deer in the park.

dec-17-deer-snow-cropped

Yes, mule deer are common and I see them pretty much every day. They are a very familiar part of my daily life here in Beulah. Hence, mule deer give me daily opportunities to apply Vuja de. The opposite of Déjà vu, the sensation that an experience currently being experienced has already been experienced, Vuja de is the act of seeing something familiar with a fresh view. I love keeping the idea of Vuja de alive in my life. It helps me to see the familiar – my home, my loved ones, my everyday world  – with fresh eyes. Vuja de reminds me to see each day and everything in it as a special gift. Because each day that I am alive, each day that I get to see my home, my family, my world, and mule deer, is, indeed, a special gift.

 

40 Day Love Fest: Daily Marriage Practices for Easy Living

Forty years is made up of a whole lot of individual days.

It is what happens routinely in those days that add up to make a life, or a marriage. Sure, vacations are nice, breaks from the routine, opportunities to do some different things and see some different places. But vacations are just that – temporarily vacating the familiar. Then it is back to the familiar. One of our philosophies of creating a happy life, and marriage, is to make the familiar – the everyday days with the everyday tasks – to be as good as they can be. Here are a few of the things we have always tried – and continue to try – to get as many of these as we can into every day:

Walking: Any day with a walk is better than a day without a walk.

One of the reasons we so love living dhvmshadowwalkwhere we do in Beulah is the easy opportunities for walking. We walk in all seasons, and know that even in the coldest of conditions, all it takes is the right warm clothes to make for a good walk.

But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. ~John Muir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music: When we made a living making music, this was easy.

Now that we have different jobs, it sometimes takes a bit more of an effort to get a good hit of music each day – we mean something more than just background music. Sometimes a day of meetings, appointments, work tasks, and other activities requires a deliberate effort to incorporate some good music time – closely listening, dancing, kicking back, singing. But whenever we do, we are glad we did.

1976

1976

Talking: We have always loved talking – just plain old talking – to each other. It helps us feel connected, up-to-date, closer.

Our talks include planning and strategizing, as well as sharing gratitudes, interesting stories or facts we read or heard, things that are “up” for one of us, something that needs “getting clear” on… We usually try to separate out our work talks from our personal talks, although so much of our work is so tied to our personal interests and values, so these two often bleed into each other. Our talks do include a lot of listening which may be one of our ‘secrets’.

IMG_7629Eating together: When the kids were little, eating together was an important part of our family life.

As they got older, sharing breakfast and lunch was not always possible, but we always made a point to eat dinner together. No TV, no eating in their rooms – we ate together at the table. Always. This also contributed to keeping our small cabin clean. And this has carried into our empty nest – breakfast and lunch are often on our own, but we almost always eat dinner together.

food

December harvest from the greenhouse.

Preparing food together:  Helene is certainly better and more confident when it comes to cooking, but that hasn’t stopped us from preparing our meals together.

We’ve lately noticed that we have evolved this very pleasant flow when we cook together, knowing without having to say what comes next, what needs to be done…

IMG_1476Chores: We find doing chores together makes the work easier.

So when it works for our schedules, we often put on some music and do a tornado clean of the house, or a part of the house. We both like things to be organized and uncluttered so together we meet up to accomplish what needs to be done. And…we have learned to not tell each other how to do things…or micro-manage each other.

 

bedroom

Making the bed together in the morning: There is something about making the bed together, right after we get up, that feels good – like we start the day, right off the bat, with a completion.

It is also a way that we connect to each other across the bed and creates a pause to nurture each other in the moment. Sometimes we talk; sometimes it is in quiet; sometimes while listening to the NPR morning news. But it is a symbolic action that mirrors how to attend to our marriage. And then the pleasant payoff: getting into a beautifully made bed together each evening. Now that brings luxury to our relationship.

Going to bed at the same time: Most of the time we do.

Naturally there are times when our schedules are busy and our needs for rest vary, but getting into bed together is a sweetness that can’t be beat for us. And the cuddling is a part of the healing connection that our relationship is based on.

sept 2011 wise women walking retreat 019

Helping each other:  It’s pretty great to have your best friend to walk through your days with.

We always seek to help make each other’s life easier; high on the list of what we are to each other is help-mates.  It works for us and infuses our marriage with mutual support, along with the joy and the fun!  And…when we built our GrowingSpaces.com greenhouse our great family all came and helped in this learning experience.  We are the lucky ones for certain.

 

 dhvm smoothies

Dave and Helene Van Manen know the secret to their 40 years of loving and it includes green smoothies, making the bed together and falling into bed laughing each night. They share their journey as they honor for 40 days their relationship started back in the 70’s when they were teens. Today they live and teach in the mountains of Colorado.

 

 

 

40 Day Love Fest: Books That Taught & Inspired Our Marriage – The Early Years

losthiwaybannervm

We love books! Sometimes a book can change your life – after you read it, you can’t see or do things the same way you saw or did them before.

In our early years we found books that helped shape our shared interests, values and ultimately our life together. Some books can be that powerful, and here is a short list of some of the books that have had such an influence on our lives:

goodlifeLiving the Good Life by Helen & Scott Nearing Living close to the land, growing food, simplifying, minimizing energy consumption – ways of living that have more recently become known as “reducing your ecological footprint” – are values that have guided our marriage since the very early years. The Nearings were role models for us – they left NYC in the 30s to homestead in Vermont, and later in Maine.

Mother Earth News OK, this was not a book, it was – and still is – a magazine, but we learned much about rural living through many articles in this down-to-earth publication.

 

 

diet-for-a-small-planet-84973l2Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe Connecting global food scarcity, food policy, meat production, and a plant-based diet, this book had a huge influence on the way we fed our family, and still feed ourselves. It helped guide us to starting a food coop, learning how to cook beans at 6600′ altitude (hello pressure cooker), doing a garden, and deepened our understanding of the relationship between a healthy planet and the choices that we all make each day.

Along with “Diet,” Laurel’s Kitchen helped us fall in love with food and how to prepare with intention.  And of course the Moosewood Cookbook inspired us to make healthy meals that delighted our guests and infused our meals with love and joy. We would have loved to visit the Moosewood Cafe in upstate NY and still hope to do so someday (a bucket list item for us).

Spiritual MidwiferyInaMayGaskin by Ina May Gaskin Early on, we were unwilling to accept at face-value ways of doing things that were the norm. When having a baby hit our radar screen (which happened in 1978, two years after we married), we had lots of questions about how childbirth was being handled through the dominant medical/corporate establishment. The amazing stories in Spiritual Midwifery led to our having both of our children at home in Beulah. We were not into thwarting the “dominant paradigm” indiscriminately or just to do it; but, if after educating ourselves about a choice to make, if the right choice for us did thwart the dominant paradigm, that was just fine with us. Having homebirths put us on the path to becoming certified childbirth educators through Informed Birth and Parenting (originally, Informed Homebirth), a nonprofit started by Rahima Baldwin that provided parents with information about alternatives in birth, parenting, and early childhood.

This book is revolutionary because it is our basic belief that the sacrament of birth belongs to the people and that is should not be usurped by a profit-oriented hospital system. ~ Spiritual Midwifery

Helene Van Manen pregnant with sierra 1976

Helene a couple of weeks before Sierra was born, 1979

 

how children learnHow Children Learn, How Children Fail and others by John Holt Boston-based educator and author John Holt‘s insights into what is and isn’t effective education had a huge influence on our own education as parents, educators, and education activists. Since we were sometimes on the road as traveling musicians and we didn’t want to leave our kids, home-schooling fit well into our music careers as well as our beliefs about raising and educating our children.

quote-all-i-am-saying-in-this-book-can-be-summed-up-in-two-words-trust-children-nothing-could-be-more-john-holt-238225

sequoiahammer

Play is how children learn. Real tools inspire children. Our son loved to build things.

We could go on and on, as books continue to inspire and teach us. Who knows – we may find a book next week that could speak to us the way these books did and influence another chapter in our try-to-make-a-difference, stand-up-for-what’s-right, vote-with-our-lives way of living.

 

dhvm canyonlands Dave and Helene Van Manen are celebrating their 40 years of marriage by celebrating one year for each day of their years together. They call it a “40 Day Love Fest” and invite you to follow along their blog posts where they are sharing their story of navigating making a life out of loving each other. 

Read more at The 40 Day Love Fest

 

40 Day Love Fest: Music Brought Us Together – The Van Manens are born

In the beginning, there was music.

If there is a thread that connects the entire length of our marriage, as well as the couple of years we were together before we were married, it is music. Making it and listening to it.

lovefestroseJust a few months before we met, Dave did his first public performance at his high school (Brooklyn Tech) after abandoning the plan to become a professional football player (his not-quite 5’7″ stature had something to do with this abandonment) and setting his sights on a music career. Helene’s vocals led to the two-part harmony that became one of the Van Manens’ trademarks.  We were in love and in love with the songs that fueled our desire to leave NYC…Country Roads by John Denver, Dark Hollow (David Bromberg), and Peaceful Easy Feeling (Eagles).

at badlands

Badlands National Monument in South Dakota, a couple of weeks after we were married.

Along with our friend Tommy Kessler, we made a demo of a few of our songs at A & R Recording Studio, Dave’s place of employment the year before we were married (Paul Simon, Billy Joel, and Judy Collins were among the artists who recorded there that year). The demo didn’t really go anywhere, but it sowed some recording seeds that would eventually germinate.

We were into the Eagles years before they became the super-popular band they later became.

We were lucky to go to some of the best concerts in the early years – Jackson Browne (Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ), James Taylor (Carnegie Hall), Eagles (2x at Capitol Theatre, one show 2nd row center, tickets were $5.65 each), and Janis Ian (Central Park).

singing at yule log 1977
Beulah Yule Log event in Pueblo Mountain Park, late 70s.

Not long after arriving in Colorado, we spent some time as students in the Music Department at the University of So. Colorado, Dave taught music privately and then at the University, and we were soon singing at weddings. We sang the Wedding Song by Paul Stookey, Follow Me (John Denver), and Longer (Dan Fogelberg) at a whole lot of weddings. We were soon doing music therapy at area hospitals, and our writing music together led us back into the recording studio.

in studio

Recording at FTM Studios in Denver, 1986 or ’87.

We happily found ourselves drawn to making music for children, which led to traveling throughout the country during the late 80s and the 90s making a living on our songs, including We Recycle, Don’t Whine, I Love My Home… Libraries, schools, church basements, living rooms, parks, peace rallies, festivals – we sang in thousands of places.  Little did we know back then that our music would someday be uploadable through something called “itunes” and that a future generations of children would be singing the songs we wrote for our children and their friends.

state fair 1984
Street Performing, mid 80s.

 

 

 

 

Peace Rally with Elaine Lopez Pacheco

 With our lifetime friend Elaine Lopez Pacheco at a peace rally on the lawn outside the Pueblo, CO Courthouse, around 1990.

 Paul Simon recorded this song at A&R Studios the year Dave worked there. We love this song!

In 2000, ready to “retire” from the music business, we both launched new careers (Helene as a Coach, Dave opening the Mountain Park Environmental Center). But music continues to enrich our lives and nurture our connection as we take music into our present day work and play – on hikes, out under the oaks, with children, and into the desert in our ’95 Eurovan. And there is singing in our house most every day.

Our music has taken us a long long way since we first sang together back in the spring of 1974, on a picnic bench in Forest Park, or on the corner of Gates and Seneca where we “hung out.” Music has also moved into the next generations – our kids Sierra and Sequoia played piano, guitar, danced, and they sang on several of our albums and performed with us when they accompanied us on our tours. And now our grandkids play a variety of instruments and receive countless lessons in music appreciation and instrument instruction from us.

A deepening of our connection to each other often takes place when we listen to music and, especially, when we make music.

An unspoken clarity rings through us about who we are together, why we are living this life on the planet at this time, and what we are meant to be doing. It  ground us and helps keep things in perspective when the world seems too crazy or is moving too fast.

Most days you will find a well-played guitar taking a break on the couch, or the Beatles or Bach or David Wilcox filling the air, or the sounds of a uke coming from the back deck, or one or both of us  irresistibly dancing to the B-52s.  It’s a wonderful musical life!

 

 

dhvm canyonlandsDave and Helene Van Manen found each other as teenagers in their New York neighborhoods, left for Colorado and let love carry them as they grew up together. Today they are reaping the joys of decades of loving and learning together.

40 Day Love Fest – Our Magical Mystery Marriage

40daylovefest1We’ve been talking about how to honor and celebrate our 40 year wedding anniversary (which we cannot even believe we are saying “forty”). We originally thought we would take 40 days off (one for each year), but that did not work out with our work schedules. So we grew that idea into creating the “40-Day LoveFest,” which will consist of doing something special each day for 40 days to celebrate these 40 magical years, including taking time each day to remember the years, the ups and downs, the memorable moments and more!
dhvmjuly10201640yearanniversaryHelene and Dave on July 10, 2016 in Wild Rivers National Monument in northern New Mexico.

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”~ Annie Dillard

Looking back on those forty years, the statement by Annie Dillard, “We do not remember days, we remember moments,” rings true for us. We got married as kids in Queens, New York (Dave was 20, Helene 17) on July 10, 1976 – a bicentennial wedding. A few days later, we headed West in a Chevy van to find our place to live the life of our dreams. Our wealth is our shared lives, our family, our love for the natural world, our mountainside home, and the wonderful work we have been able to do. It all is centered on making our day-to-day actions reflect our shared value of “making a difference”.  Leaving NYC and settling somewhere in the West was a dream-come-true in and of itself; since then we have had many many other dreams come true.

Dave 0046

Journey with us these next 40 days as we share some of the moments we remember, along with thoughts about being married to the same person for all these years and what it feels like to wake up and have the calendar say, “Hey kids, it’s been 40 years!”

 

The Call To Take People To Nature

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” ~ John Muir

What was left of the daylight was rapidly fading. The primeval silence of the forest was as much a presence as the Douglas firs that towered above us. The deep hoot of a great horned owl suddenly punctuated the silence. It could not have been better timed as each of us “solo hiked” out of the canyon on Ursula’s last evening of Nature Retreat Leader Training. I was no more than 50 yards ahead of her, yet this distance, and the owl making its presence known, seemed to amplify the feeling of being truly immersed in wild Nature – exactly what I was after!  Moments later we reunited along the trail and shared … what it felt like to be out there, what came up, did we each hear the owl?, were we scared?

Ursula Nature Retreat Leader

Over the course of three days and evenings, Ursula hiked, learned to properly use binoculars and some basics of birdwatching, examined a dried out aster with a hand lens, spent time alone on a sunny hillside with her thoughts and her journal, was introduced to using a dichotomous key in identifying conifer trees… and discussed numerous subjects related to safely providing people with opportunities to connect with the natural world. Ursula Nature Retreat Leader Tree(Not only Nature subjects, but business subjects too – running a successful Nature Retreat business requires both.) And, most important of all, Ursula got to rekindle her own connection to Nature before she flew back to her busy life in the Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania.

As the 21st century flies through its 2nd decade, chock full of more and more technological wizardry, frightening environmental news, and societal upheavals, it seems that more and more of us are wanting – no, needing – to find our way back to Nature.

Now I don’t mean selling it all and moving to a homestead in the woods. I simply mean to step away from the peopled and built worlds for an hour, a day, a week, and experience that other world, the one that many of us felt much more connected to when we were children. Maybe it was the backyard, or the neighborhood park, or the climbing tree along a city street, or the scouts – this is where most of us established our connection to the natural world. Then we grew up, and, well, you know what happened.

Ursula Nature Retreat Leader Rock

Ursula currently makes a living in the corporate world, which, as so many of us can relate to, takes up so much of her time. She also feels the pull of the natural world – she knows she misses it, and she is actively working on re-establishing her connection to it. But Ursula also feels that she is being called to help others connect – or reconnect – with Nature.

And that is how I got to know her, through the Nature Retreat Leader Training that my partner Helene Van Manen and I offer. Ursula is working on taking her many skills that she uses in her current career and combining them with what she is learning through our training to create a new livelihood, one that is all about connecting people and Nature.

When I think back on that evening hike into Devil’s Canyon, I know that I will remember it for some time, as it truly was magical. I have a feeling that Ursula feels the same way about it. My hunch is that it will not be long before Ursula is providing folks in her neck of the Pennsylvania woods with the same kind of meaningful and magical experiences in Nature.

 

Dave Van Manen / Healthy Planet Blog

Why John Muir is One Of My Nature Heroes

I’m reading yet another book on John Muir, this one by a fine writer, Kim Heacox, about Muir’s travels to Alaska to observe and explore glaciers.

John Muir imagesI am always moved by accounts of how Muir’s love of wild places was such a driving force in all that he did. I especially appreciate the story about Muir’s meeting of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was 1871, Emerson was 68, Muir 33. In spite of Emerson’s entourage, who were concerned about the old man’s health, Muir begged Emerson to spend more time with him in Yosemite and camp in a grove of big trees, sleeping on the ground. “You are yourself a Sequoia. Stop and get acquainted with your brethren…It will do you good.” I love this – encouraging the old man to stay and spend time among his brethren, big old Sequoia trees. Emerson’s acolytes prevailed, and Emerson went on his way. Even so, Emerson considered Muir one of the most inspiring people he had ever met. Thanks to good books, I too consider John Muir one of my most inspiring and influential people.

 

Dave Van Manen – www.DaveVanManen.com

How Loud Did He Burp? What Kids Learn At Summer Camp

Ah, summer – long hot days, rainstorms, no school, vacations from work, fishing, swimming, picnics, visits to National Parks, trips to the beach… We all have our own associations when we think of summer, these and others. Last week, I picked up my 10-year old grandson Jude from a summer camp that he attended, one that focused on wilderness skills such as shelter building, finding safe drinking water, and how to build a friction fire. I thought that summer camp will likely be on his list of summer associations when he is an adult. I hope so.

Dave Van ManenAlong with being fun, summer camp can be one of the most valuable experiences that a young person can have. Jude talked about learning to use friction to start a fire and how his shelter, built out of sticks and pine needles, was a bit small for sleeping. Beyond the wilderness skills, he talked about how he ran out of lunch snacks because he ate all of them on the first day, and how tired he was on the last night because he was up so late the nights before, and how there was this kid who could burp really loud, like at 50 decibels. He said that he wasn’t at all scared when a thunderstorm rolled through just as he was falling asleep on the first night, but some other campers were, and so he told them that thunder couldn’t hurt them, but that they should always be on guard about lightning.

You see, along with giving kids experiences in Nature, which are so important since so many of our children suffer from Nature-deficit disorder, summer camp also provides young people many opportunities to practice being more on their own, without a parent telling them when to go to bed, or constantly reminding them not eat all their lunch food at once. Sure, the camp counselors are looking out for their campers, but camp counselors are not their parents. From the sounds of Jude’s comments on his counselors, they were all about keeping the campers safe relative to fire and bear etiquette and the like, but they didn’t hover over them when it came to lots of other not-so-dangerous things. They told them the rules, and then they let the kids run with them. From the sounds if it, they were good camp counselors who understood that camp is about having fun, and being safe, and learning all sorts of cool things. But they also recognized that summer camp is just as much about kids learning to be responsible for themselves, and that includes making mistakes and learning from those mistakes.

camperThis morning, I ran into a Mom who sent her son to many of the camps that I used to oversee when I ran an environmental education center. Her son is now finishing up college, with a major in environmental studies. She said she was just talking to him about his college experience, and what kind of jobs he is looking at, and how pleased they both are about the direction he took with his education. She said that her son always mentions that the summer camps he attended had a lot to do with why he decided to major in environmental studies, and also why he now loves to backpack, and hike, and spend time in Nature. She said he is an activist for the environment, and summer camp had a lot to do with why.

Yes, for many people, going to camp is a memorable association with summer. But summer camp may very well be so much more. Along with learning things about Nature, and being safe in the wilderness, and how getting enough rest is important, and how if you eat all of your food there won’t be any for later, and that Nature needs folks to act on her behalf, a child also might learn how to burp at 50 decibels.