Laurita Dianita

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Mama’s in the Mountains

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My article with Oscar‘s photo a month ago in The Anchorage Press:

Mama’s in the Mountains

For this Mother’s Day, we celebrated my mama the way we celebrate all holidays as a family: with a hike in the Chugach Mountains. We trudged for five miles up and down the steep, muddy trails, looking out over Anchorage and the Cook Inlet through bare birch trunks and last year’s cow parsnip stalks.
This is what we do on holidays. This is how we prepare, in the morning, for a Thanksgiving Feast, and how we give thanks. This is how we recover from Christmas breakfast. This is how we celebrate anything: with nature and sweat. So of course this is the most natural way to celebrate my mama on the occasion of Mother’s Day. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

She is, after all, the mother who broke her ankle at age 48 while bouldering on the South Side of Flattop, but didn’t want to cancel the glacier camping trip we had planned soon after. So while we skied up the glacier’s slope, not wanting to be left out of the fun, she got out of the sled in which she was being towed and crawled up the slope. This is the same mother who subconsciously knew when I was hungover as a teenager and would drag me out on 16-mile runs to the Williwaw Lakes or up Wolverine Peak. She is the mother with whom, at the age of 54, I had a harrowing camping trip in the Chugach in which we got lost and hypothermic, but made it out okay after climbing about 7,000 feet of peaks with wet backpacks on. She is the mother who broke her humeral head 6 weeks ago skiing from Arctic Valley to Indian, and had to hike uphill for an hour holding her broken shoulder—this at the age of 59. Of course, arm in sling, she was back to hiking a few weeks later.

I’ve been thinking of my mother’s tenacity, strength and wisdom leading up to this day that is meant to honor mothers. Quite different from its current, highly commercialized face, Mother’s Day’s has its origins in an 1870 declaration by Julia Warde Howe in response to the loss of so many husbands, sons and fathers in the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. In Howe’s declaration, she called for mothers to have a role in shaping sane public policy and promoting peace, and asked that people listen to women’s wisdom. I find this a very appropriate way to honor mothers, and so I found myself reflecting, as we hiked past the spring shoots and ice-splintered mud of the Bicentennial Park, on the wisdom that my mama’s relentless desire to be in the mountains teaches me.
She teaches me, and everyone who knows her, that aging is not that land of maladies and lost opportunities our culture so often portrays it as — that no-mans-land of kitsch and irrelevance that is the stuff of comedic stereotypes. In a youth-centric, media-driven society such as ours, aging is seen as undesirable, as something to avoid at all costs. This is especially true for women, who don’t get lauded as being “distinguished” looking as they age, the way that men like Sean Connery or George Clooney do, and they certainly don’t play action heroes into their middle age. Just as I hear people my age afraid to get old, I also so often hear people much younger than my mom limit their outdoor activities or use of the stairs, saying—“Oh, my knees; I’m too old for that.”
Now, I know that there are many reasons—genetics, environment, structural inequalities, etc.—that contribute to people having disabilities that truly can limit physical activity. But I’ve always been puzzled when I hear people name age as the culprit for those limitations. It doesn’t make sense to me after I’ve spent so many years watching my mama, whose wisdom has been to eschew the notion that aging is weakness and serious limitations are inevitable, and who has just kept playing. This is, perhaps, a later-in-life version of the way she ignored her father’s admonitions that college education was a waste of time for women, and went anyway. As a result of her resolution, my mama’s broken ankle healed far beyond any of the grim predictions offered by the doctors. She and my dad can still enjoy long excursions into the mountains together, and she has remained tough, fast, and lean as she approaches 60.

As an athlete, a nature-lover, a midwife, a vocal advocate for women’s healthcare, and someone actively engaged in politics, my mama demonstrates that people don’t have to lose their passions, their relevance, their power, or their ability to have fun as they age. So in honor of Mother’s Day and Julia Warde Howe’s 1870 cry to elevate women’s wisdom, I offer you the wisdom of my mother: keep playing, keep yourself connected to nature, and keep on keepin’ on, no matter what people might say.

Written by admin

June 10th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Posted in health

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