Connecting with nature pretty cool

By Helena Rodriguez: Freelance columnist

I had an altitude adjustment last weekend.

Altitude Adjustment was the name of the ski retreat that my daughter Laura and I went with her church youth group on last weekend. It was high up in the snow-covered rocky mountains of Denver.

Many people think of going off to the mountains as a “getaway,” but it’s really a “getting back,” a getting back to nature, where we belong. When I lived in Hobbs in 2000, a priest, Father Jose Reyes, told me that to be truly happy, men must be in touch with God, with his fellow human beings and with nature. Too many of us, myself included, need to get outside more. We need to get out from behind our computer screens, televisions and desks and make nature a part of our daily lives. And so I was excited about “getting back,” not “getting away.”

Although I knew I was going to have to burn the midnight oil to get the reading for my English literature class done when I returned home, I knew it would be worth it. And it certainly was. I got to witness Laura, my niece, Crystal Diaz, and several other youth, ski for the first time in their young lives. I also saw them fall down many times as well, but that was part of the learning process.

And so there I found myself, nestled in the warmth of a welcoming mountain lodge in a place called Snow Mountain Ranch. It was surrounded by the majestic pine trees and beautiful mountainscapes that have made Colorado famous. It was cool, I mean literally, as in having to wear thermals underneath our clothing and two layers of additional clothing on top of that — something we desert rats are not used to.

But it was also cool, driving 12 hours and 9,000 feet up in elevation, “coming back” to nature, and as ironic as it may sound, to hear a rapping priest from the inner city Bronx of New York ,“freestyling” lyrics about Jesus and The Great JPII. How cool is that? Usual maybe, but then again, perhaps not because JPII was an avid skier who was known to slip away from the Vatican at times to hit the slopes.

Father Stan Fortuna is a Franciscan priest who dresses in a traditional gray robe, but his ministry is anything but traditional. He’s gained a youthful following with his hip way of evangelizing.

For the record, I didn’t ski, although I was tempted. I thought of many excuses not to ski, like being afraid of heights. Those ski-lift gondolas do not have seat belts. And there was the fear of not only falling, but of not being able to get up in those heavy boots and long, irksome skis. I was a pretty good skateboarder during my young days, but this desert rat is also a wimp when it comes to frigid weather. One of my biggest fears was of falling head-first and getting soaked in that freezing snow.

I admired Laura and Crystal though. They took ski lessons in the morning and then hit the bunny hill in the afternoon. Laura even got up the courage to go on the “big mountain” with her friend Tom. She had a rather painful fall up there, but Laura says she’ll go skiing again someday, when another opportunity rises.

For the record, I did soak in as much fresh mountain air and sunshine as I could. I didn’t complain about the snow there, like I do here, especially last winter when the snow stuck around eastern New Mexico for a few days. I was so sick and tired of snow by then.

I hated having to drive slow, walk slow, being freezing cold, not having much of a winter snow wardrobe, and always afraid of slipping in the ice. I was a snow wimp.

But up in the mountains of Denver, where snow is a part of daily life, the town didn’t shut down and, surprisingly, I didn’t either. It was beautiful sunny day at the Winter Park Ski Area and as I noted, mountain snow is so much different, so much softer in Colorado, not hard and icy like it is here. And with its breathtaking backdrop of Rocky Mountains, it wasn’t about “getting away.” It was about “coming back.” … back to nature.

Helena Rodriguez is a freelance columnist. She can be reached at: