“Dream only large dreams, for they have the power to fire people’s souls.” — Brock Evans (adaptation of a Daniel Burnham quote)
I like to think that caterpillars dream big. While nibbling leaves, they dream of flight, of unfurling of wings of brilliant colors, the sweet taste of pollen, and the aerial dance ahead.
Years ago when attending a student environmental conference in Seattle, I said yes to a spontaneous offer to take a seaplane ride from Lake Washington to the Olympic Peninsula. On the way back, the pilot turned to me in the passenger seat and said, “Why don’t you fly the plane?” We were directly over the city. I could see the Space Needle ahead. My heart pounded. I nodded, and put both hands on what looked like my own steering wheel. With a bit of coaching, I was steering! Not just right or left, but up and down, experiencing travel in three dimensions. I’ll never forget that mind-blowing five minutes of freedom.
Dream big. Leave gravity behind. Say yes. Experience the world in more than one dimension. For me? I never became a pilot. My father was a jet pilot and I believe that part of why he chose to take to the air was his love of birds that he imparted to me as one of his many lasting gifts. Instead, I look to the sky to feel the free flight of birds, especially to learn from my muse–the kingfisher.
Watch a belted kingfisher hover above a stream, wings beating hard and swift, catching the winds just so, and eyes focused with laser clarity on the waters below. She dives headfirst, folding her wings at the surface, her bill entering the water so smoothly that the fish idling at the surface have no time to elude her scissoring snap. Then, she performs the most miraculous act of all. She muscles her way upwards without any firm purchase like a branch to push off from. She digs deep to find some Heraculean strength to flap right back up into the blue sky.
Dream big. Dig deep. Say yes. Last weekend, I ran Oregon’s Newport Marathon, joined by my partner Wes and his daughter Andrea. The months leading up to the event had not gone smoothly for training, starting with a sprained shoulder from skate skiing in early March, a few clutzy falls, and various aches and pains. I put aside the training schedule and took a different approach. I ran more slowly than I’ve ever trained before and only when it felt good.
Our meditative long runs were glorious. Wes and I (often joined by Andrea and her friend Charlie, our lively Labrador Pepper, and sometimes our stalwart older lab Summer) explored trails along the Deschutes River, in the Badlands Wilderness, within a secret pine forest by the lava fields near our home, on Horse Butte, to Tumalo Falls in the snow, and paths off the China Hat Road. Over Wes’s spring break, we tried running in the California redwoods, yet craning our heads backwards to gaze up at the magnificence proved impossible. We yielded to reverent walking. Everywhere we ran, we would pause for birds, pause for blooms, wildflowers, slants of light, big trees, waterfalls, and for embraces on bridges. And all the time, that dream still stirred of the marathon ahead and a dangling possibility of qualifying for the Boston Marathon to run with my brother in 2018.
At last the day arrived. June 3rd. Wes and I had slept restlessly in our popup camper, parked outside our friends’ Dawn and Ram’s home in a pastoral setting eight miles outside of Newport. We rose in the dark to join Andrea inside for a light breakfast–for me, coffee, a banana, and an almond bar. As the race start time neared, and we warmed up by the ocean’s edge at Yaquina Bay State Park, I felt a familiar pre-race sensation, a cycling pattern of doubt, strength, and anticipation.
The doubt? I’d run road and trail races since high school, yet this was only my second marathon, a moment of personal triumph (see marathon blog). All the others I’d trained for had resulted in injuries prior to the race. My son Ian, who knows too well my history, serves as a bit of a life coach when it comes to marathons. Over the phone I’d promised him that I would strive for enjoyment over being the competitor of my past.
Fast forward. I’m in the 20th mile of the race with 6.2 miles to go. The route? Truly lovely and gentle–following Yaquina Bay inland for miles in the company of great blue herons, gulls, and lush coastal forests. I’d stayed with a small group of runners hoping for a four-hour marathon and it was going well. Carlos, Juan, Kim and I cheered each other on, laughed, and encouraged others we passed. We smiled and thanked spectators and the volunteers who held out cups of water and gatorade at aid stations. We avoided the oyster shooters (I’d find out later that Wes ate two!).
Something happens in those last six miles that marathoners talk about. The race becomes hard. My legs become less willing. They grow heavy. Some little voice inside starts to whine…”this is too hard.” It’s then that the true marathon begins. Say yes. Dig down deep. Believe that your body can do this. Focus on breathing. Let the world around you become a blur. Keep the rhythm going with every arm swing. Stop counting the miles. The last few hundred yards are downhill to a finish after what feels like a brutal uphill beforehand. Juan and I speed up and cross the line together, beaming, a shared victory with a person I will likely never see again. At 3:58, I’d qualified for Boston. And Andrea? She accomplished the biggest feat of the three of us finishers–her very first marathon and with even extra speed and reserve at the end. Here’s to youth, spirit, and carrying on the torch!
Had I let go of all competitiveness? No. I’d taken a tact of staying the course and believing in that reserve of strength we all have within us. Even if it was hard, that digging deep part? That’s empowering. Dream big. Believe in our ability to accomplish our dreams. Practice what it takes to get there. Ah, and here’s what I think is the secret to it all. Find the joy, happiness, and delight along the way. Embrace the love for another person and for this miraculous earth we are so fortunate to share with each other. Say yes to the small wonders everywhere for those who notice, like this concealed hummingbird on a nest:
Soon after the race, my friend Brock emailed me the quote that gives him strength to keep saving the wild places: “Dream only large dreams, because they have the power to stir people’s souls.”
His adapted quote, Brock told me, originated from a 19th century architect named Daniel Burnham. The full paragraph is worth sharing here:
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and our grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.”
Let your beacon be beauty. Yes to beauty! Yes to kingfishers and flying. Yes to transformations– of caterpillar to butterfly. Yes to our sons AND daughters and their grandchildren whose future depends on what we all do now.
Yes to saving our last big wildands and supporting the groups that defend them, like Greater Hells Canyon Council. I say yes to being a big dreamer conservationist dedicated to protecting and connecting a wildlife-filled tapestry centered on the deepest gorge in North America of Hells Canyon, rising to the peaks of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, and extending into Idaho and Washington, with thousands and thousands of unprotected acres of wildlands. And yes to being outdoors drinking the elixir of wild nature. Dream only large dreams…