To Those Who Can’t, We Shall

An essay about nature’s role in loving and losing.

By on January 14, 2021 | 5 comments

As I sat around a campfire on Christmas Day, my friend Karli raised her glass, “To those who can’t, we shall.” We all raised ours in unison to toast.

The snowy mountains around Silverton, Colorado were glowing with the half-full moon. Jupiter and Saturn dipped below Sultan Peak as Orion’s belt hung above Banana Ridge. I didn’t know any of these people except in passing, and I knew, like me, there was a chance they were hanging around Silverton alone in their houses on Christmas. I sent them a message, “You around? Let’s have a fire and hang out!” We spent the evening talking running, skiing, mountains, land use, and then loss.

As we raised our glasses, my eyes teared up. I thought about my mom who loved Christmas more than anything. We’ve all lost people and I think many of us have discovered that’s why we do what we do. When we’re outside, we connect with them.

Sometimes you can feel them amongst the wind and the wildflowers and the glittering snow as it falls softly from the sky. And when our hearts pound hard as we work to gain the summit, we realize how lucky we are to be alive. In light of loss, we are propelled forward to live and honor those who are gone.

My friend Missy recently gave me a new book, Rock Me on the Water by Renny Russell. Renny lost his brother Terry on the Green River shortly before their successful publication of On the Loose, a book I’ve quoted in this column before, that inspired millions of readers to get out into nature. Nearly 40 years after that fateful journey, Renny returns to the Green as a way to reconnect with his brother and transcend the loss that has filled those years. I use this as an example of the past year and hopefully as an example of how we can use the trials we’ve faced both personally and globally to transform us into a more open and compassionate world.

I am already dreaming of the bucolic alpine tundra of summer, the ridgeline scrambles, and the watercress-choked streams. But also this year I have found a greater sense of contentment in my daily runs or lately, just doodling around on skis. All I really want is the warmth of the sun and the occasional companion with whom I can rant and rave. Sometimes life throws me for a loop and provides a steep learning curve, but I adjust and I look to nature to provide the perspective I need.

I am excited to see what this year of running holds for everyone as people continue to venture beyond the box of races and onto their own paths. As we reflect on this past rotation around the sun, it’s easy to get hung up on what wasn’t, but there were lots of moments of light in the darkness and hopefully we can all see what was. Life is fickle but carrying the love of those lost provides motivation and gratitude to lace up our shoes and head out the door.

I think it can be hard to articulate why we run. It varies so vastly day to day and is something that has to be experienced… the sun hitting the grass at sunset, a memory that makes you smile, or the feeling of freedom on your own two feet. Hold onto that feeling and as always, to those who can’t, we shall.

“So as long as I can see I will keep looking.
As long as I can walk I will keep moving.
As long as I can stand I will keep fighting.”
On the Loose, Renny and Terry Russell

Call for Comments

  • What light did you find amongst the darkness of 2020?
  • And is there anyone in your world for which you act because they can’t?
Hannah Green
wanders long distances by foot and takes photos along the way. When not outside, you can likely find her at the nearby coffee shop. Find more on Instagram and at Hannah Green Art.