If you want to climb to Heaven, it helps to be grounded in the Earth.

As the Health and Wellness Officer for the Angel Fire Ski Patrol, which has its fair share of AARP members, I am asked now and again what kind of routines I find helpful for managing my health as it relates to aging, as well as mental, physical, and emotional well being.

Without any hesitation, I always start by extolling the obvious benefits of sustained physical exertion in combination with the great outdoors: parks, woods, wilderness areas, oceans, beaches, mountains, rivers, lakes, etc.

As a veteran, the outdoors has been an invaluable source of solace, comfort and healing for me. I would say I am outside as often as possible, with trips to natural settings at least several times a week. When I can’t travel very far, I go for long walks right out my front door. My nearby neighbor’s property borders on public wilderness, so with his permission, I am able to pass through his land to gain access to miles of trails, streams, and mountains. 

Of course, one of the great advantages of serving as a ski patroller is that we are out exerting ourselves in the mountains all the time. But just as important as my strenuous outdoor activities is my yoga/meditation practice, which can be every bit as strenuous. If you have not tried it, you may surprise youself. Without a doubt, although yoga came into my life later than the outdoor physical activity, I recognize in the power of yoga, particularly as it relates to cultivating and maintaining an “inner calm” in the face of adversity, an incredible ability to further tap into inner recesses of power, resiliency, and hope.

Given the requirements of social distancing associated with the ongoing pandemic, I have had to modify my yoga practice to rely primarily on on-line classes available on YouTube. I have found that I enjoy doing yoga every bit as much on the floor of my living room as I have ever enjoyed in a formal yoga studio. In fact, it is so good, that I would not have a problem if all the yoga I could do was yoga on the floor of my living room in front of the woodstove.

To make matters even better, I have found on YouTube a rich resource of classes and instructors. One class in particular, entitled, 45 minute Intermediate Yoga Flow, referenced in a previous blog, has become my go-to class. 

Additionally, my yoga practice, particularly the emphasis on focused breathing, has helped me in my outdoor exertion. I make it a point to try and breathe through my nose and exhale through my mouth, just as I do in my yoga practice. I find that this helps settle my mind, sharpen my senses, and even improves my balance. This is particularly helpful when you are engaged in climbing mountains, as I often am.

I find that climbing mountains helps soothe and calm me, gives me a sense of purpose, and helps me process and deal with the great anxiety and heart pangs that I am living with. For the last five years, I have been engaged in a challenging effort to maintain a relationship with my youngest boy. Even with the help of the best attorneys in the world, the road to maintain contact between us is long, arduous, and filled with obstacles.

In order to endure, and not descend into the depths of despair, which would serve neither me or my son, I have to sip religiously from the chalice of hope and positivity. And I have managed to do this through maintaining healthy practices and embracing outdoor living and physical challenge, including the practice of telemark and mountaineering, which I have also blogged about.

It is no wonder that I have become so practiced at sustaining my own resiliency, and cultivating equanimity and “inner calm,” that I have been named the Health and Wellness Officer for the Angel Fire Ski Patrol, a position which fills me with great pride and satisfaction, even in the face of my other hardships and grief.

For to be sure, part of managing one’s health and wellness is managing one’s grief. There is no doubt that yoga and meditation and outdoor exertion and otherwise healthy practices go a long way to managing grief and promoting mental health.

For all those out there dealing with the challenges of COVID-19, the solitariness, the social distancing, the isolation, perhaps even the virus itself, keep fighting your impulse to give in to despair. This can present itself as over-eating, inaction, excessive screen time (TV, smartphone, social media, movies, etc.), morbid passivity, and withdrawal from the concerns of life.

It is never too late to start developing good habits. 

If you are not in the habit of walking, start taking walks. Even if all you do is walk around the rooms of your home for an hour, that is better than nothing. Ideally, you should be able to walk outside safely, perhaps wearing a facial covering of some sort, but ideally positioning yourself in areas far enough away from others, that a facial covering is merely a precaution, and not necessary. Start taking care of some plants. Maybe seedlings. Put up a bird feeder or a hummingbird feeder. 

In a word, start paying attention to all the living things that have a stake in this world and this life besides yourself.

And then, keep on keeping on. With each meditation session, each yoga session, each mountain climbed, each hummingbird sighted, each excursion into the bosom of Mother Nature, you will feel an increased sense of health welling up inside yourself, an enhanced sense of connection to all living things, and even an appreciation for your own resiliency, and ability to persevere.

For persevere you must, my friend. There remain canvasses to be painted, waves to be ridden, and mountains to be climbed. And somewhere out there is a young boy, reading your crayon-scribbled letters, counting on your strength, positivity, and enduring love.

Staying the Course

To my fellow Angel Fire Patrollers:

As your Health and Wellness Officer, I would like to share with you some thoughts and ideas on how to help navigate these challenging times of COVID-19.

1. Online Yoga: As you know, our community center yoga with MB has been canceled. Keep in mind that there are tremendous amounts of yoga classes that can be found online, such as on YouTube. Here is a 45 minute intermediate flow session that is my go-to. I like the ocean in the background, and the occasional bird that flies by. I find this class very calming and relaxing, while still providing adequate intensity and challenge: https://youtu.be/TWSo_Z4j3N4

2. Area Beautification: This is a simple thing that can be done just outside your door, and is a good excuse to get out and walk a bit. Consider going outside with a garbage bag and picking up cans and debris and litter that may have sheltered beneath the snow all winter but has since been exposed. It may not seem like much, but the positive feelings associated with beautifying your neighborhood, yard, stretch of road, etc, can go a long way to maintaining a positive mood and attitude. Remember JCs heroic efforts on Upper Domingo? While he was cleaning up the lift line, endorphins were flowing.

3. Gardening/Yard maintenance: This doesn’t have to be involved. It can be as simple as pulling a few weeds, getting rid of brush piles that have accumulated, or planting some flowers. Anything to get you outside and take a break from any “cabin fever” that may be developing.

3. Heart Monitor/GPS: For years I have relied on orienteering skills to navigate the my woods and wilderness areas. Recently I have become interested in being better able to better monitor my activity on the trail via a heart monitor. Having used it now for several outings, I find it indispensable. Combining the heart monitor with a GPS makes wilderness travel safer. It is now possible to plan a route on the computer, transfer the data to the watch, and then have all that information and guidance at your fingertips. It is also fun to record the location of terrain features you come across, such as possible bivouac sites, rock formations, water crossings, etc. That way you can return to them anytime. In these times of COVID, anything we can do to make our outdoor recreation safer is a good call, and a GPS watch/heart monitor is a clear advantage. Once marketed for $400 or more, models can now be had for half that or less. I recently picked up a heavily discounted Suunto Ambit3 Peak with heart monitor, and after using it for a week, I am blown away by all the functionality it possesses, and consider it worth every penny. It even provides a recommended amount of “recovery time” in hours after you get back from your hike or walk or activity, etc.

4. Wilderness Outings: We are all practicing good snow-cial distancing, as far as I can tell. What this means to me is no carpooling, no lingering at trailheads, and keeping group activity to three or fewer individuals (four at the most). I have also been avoiding crowded trailheads, or going very early in the morning to avoid any bottlenecking in the parking lots or on the trails. Yes, we must practice responsible distancing. Yes, we must exercise due caution in wilderness areas. But outings to the wilderness are an essential part of my routine to ensure mental and physical well-being. I am able to access the woodline out my back door with a short walk through my neighbor’s yard, so with reasonable adaptations, I continue with wilderness excursions on a regular basis. The only thing I would add is that I think we should avoid any significant travel to distant trailheads. For instance, areas in Colorado I would not think twice about visiting in past years are now off the radar. I think somewhere around 50 miles should be our upper limit. Stay local and low-key as much as possible

5. Hummingbird feeder: This is a small thing you can do that can be a source of additional good feelings. I noticed my first hummingbird of the season on April 7. It returned again yesterday. I suspect it won’t be long before I have a crowd gathering. The little guys are continuing to make their way up north as we speak.

6. Surf and ski videos: Watching some videos can be a nice way to relax and cultivate some good vibes in the face of all the anxiety associated with this pandemic. Jamie O’Brien is a surfing legend who has been surfing Pipeline for roughly 30 years since the age of 7. His refined sense and feel for the waves and the ocean are truly extraordinary. “I definitely consider myself a spiritual person because I talk to the ocean and I talk to my surroundings. I start telling it, ‘Hey, I’m committed to you, I live here, I love you. I just want to…just serve me that wave and I’ll do my best to please you’.” He is responsible for putting out weekly video blogs on YouTube that are always high-action, exuberant, and feature amazing waves and beautiful ocean scenes. For my part, I find videos and images of the ocean very calming and soothing at this time. Here is a good video introduction to @whoisjob and the impact he has had in the surfing world: https://youtu.be/fxz-6seHm3w

5. Stay Connected: Continue reaching out to your friends and family, other patrol members, etc. This is not just for us, but for them as well. I am now able to video chat with my sons a couple times a week. It isn’t the best arrangement, but it is for sure better than nothing. My sons are both out of school and facing challenges of their own with the significant disruption of their routine. The increased amount of social distancing and challenges that we are all facing can weaken our resiliency, attitude, motivation, etc. My cell signal can be intermittent based on the weather, with texting unreliable at times, but you can always reach me via email at telemonsurfs@gmail.com. Additionally, with the extended periods of time that many of us are spending indoors, we are spending a lot of “screen time.” Probably too much. I would suggest trying to limit your “screen time” where possible. The news of the day can be disheartening, so limiting your exposure to negative news can be helpful to cultivating and maintaining a positive attitude. (And let’s face it, any activity outdoors beats sitting on your phone!)

6. Alright! That’s it for now! I am going to have some lentils and rice for lunch, my go-to protein source, and get out there and pick up some trash on the highway!!

Stay healthy, and stay psyched! We’ll be back out on the mountain in no time!

Alex ‘Telemón’ Limkin

Angel Fire Ski Patrol

Health and Wellness Officer

Drop Knees Not Bombs

On a day off, I stoke a fire, brew coffee, and sit down on a chair fashioned from split kindling. Ranger, a shaggy-haired buddy who lives down the road, comes by for a scratch and to piss on my snow tires. I gave him a ham bone on Christmas Day, which he has been unable to forget. So now I am a fixture on his neighborhood rounds.

Which is fine by me.

My involvement in a war I consider unjust, illegal and immoral has been costly. As an infantry captain serving under Colonel Ted Westhusing, whose tragic death is surrounded by controversy, I had my moral compass shattered.

Four years after returning home, plagued with guilt, reckless and out of control, I struck a tree, and shattered my body.

I could easily have become a statistic on January 31, 2009, and died from a fractured pelvis, sternum, tib/fib, and lower vertebrae. Yet one more unremarkable veteran casualty. But somehow I lived. I lived in part thanks to the mountains that I began climbing a year later, following an arduous period of recovery confined to a bed, then graduating to a wheelchair, then to a walker, then to crutches, and finally regaining the ability to walk half a year after my hospitalization. The following winter, I started going to the rodeo grounds in Santa Fe and participating in a therapeutic riding program run by Gus Jolley. This program, known as Listening Horse, as well as my friendship with Gus, a veteran of the Vietnam War, has been an additional source of strength and support over the years.

In 2011, a puppy came into my life, Abigail Benally, born into a pack of seven on the windswept steppes near Shiprock. She became my spirit partner, going everywhere with me. In 2014, after I obtained a Wilderness First Responder certification at the Outward Bound basecamp near Leadville, we began ski patrolling together. My gear was rudimentary telemark gear: a two-buckle Scarpa boot, some Hardwire bindings, and a 10th Mountain Karhu ski with fish scales–68mm underfoot. Two years after my accident, I taught myself to telemark ski in the Sandias as a way to help regain range of motion in my right ankle. Together, we wandered countless miles through the snowy woods.

I lost Abigail to cancer in 2018. She died at the cusp of a shutdown of all of our national forests as a fire precaution due to severe drought conditions. It was as though she didn’t want to hang around for all the trailhead closures and red tape drawn across every forest access road. Abigail left me too soon, but her impact and presence could not have been more beneficial. On Wheeler Peak at the age of 4 months, to the top of Blanca Peak a year later, she was my lodestar, my “bringer of joy.” She accompanied me everywhere, including every weekly trip to see my son in Albuquerque.

I have a pair of skis that feature her paw print and silhouette. I briefly wrestled with the notion of keeping the skis pristinely hanging on the wall, but eventually realized that the right place for them is in the mountains, where we roamed free.

Every May for the last decade, I do a memorial hike across the Sandias, known as Skywalk, in honor of my commander, Colonel Ted Westhusing, who died at the age of 44.

I no longer bear arms; the only war I now wage is against the mountains with my legs. On mornings when I am not patrolling, I wake up at 3:30am, make a bowl of oatmeal with chia seeds and golden flax and hemp hearts, and head out to gain a glimpse of heaven on earth in the high mountains at first light.

I will continue to ski patrol as long as I can and spread telemark through the Sangre Academy of Telemark and Nature, founded in 2016 with fellow ski patroller, Jonah ‘Drift’ Thompson.

My dream is for more children to be exposed to telemark, and for our academy to expand. I have helped coach chess to kids in Albuquerque for the last couple years with the local chess academy, and I believe telemark would be a wonderful addition to chess, as both activities cultivate thoughtfulness, mindfulness, concentration, and good decision making.

Drop knees not bombs.

Alex ‘Telemón’ Limkin is a member of the Angel Fire Ski Patrol in New Mexico. He serves as that patrol’s health and wellness officer, and is a co-founder of the Sangre Academy of Telemark & Nature. He is a 2019 -2020 NSP Subaru Ambassador.

Patrick Larkin, Legendary Taos Freeheeler, 1956-2019, R.I.P. (Rip In Peace)

Following Patrick Larkin down Sin Nombre, Taos Ski Valley, May 2, 2019

Resist mediocrity.

This was the catchphrase of Patrick Larkin (1956-2019) whose last contribution to Facebook, on August 5, was an admonition on gun control. Three weeks later, in the dawn hours, Patrick, 63, in his non-mediocre prime of life, was cowardly set upon by a gun-wielding neighbor with a vendetta, and–in a single instant–leveled.

Guns are for cowards.

I say this as a soldier who specialized in gun violence, from everything from dinky 5.56mm cartridges that you could carry by the hundreds, to 105mm shells weighing 100lbs a piece, that you cradled in your arms one at a time.

Guns are for cowards.

I say this as a soldier who slept with guns, who cradled guns like infants, who oiled guns in his sleep.

Guns are for cowards.

A mediocre Fixed Heeler is locked up in jail today, and a legendary Free Heeler has been lost to us, due to a senseless proliferation of guns, permitted to flood from the battlefield into every nook and cranny and crevice of our domestic lives.

Guns are for cowards.

Never stop speaking out against mediocrity, against cowardice, against injustice, against madness, stupidity, and moral turpitude.

Thank you for your example, Patrick Larkin.

Thank you for your grace and beauty in the mountains above.

And for staring rottenness in the face without flinching in the valleys below.

Even as we mourn your death, so too do we celebrate your life.

Resist mediocrity.

Alex ‘Tele Mon’ Limkin

Captain, U.S. Army, Retired

National Ski Patroller

Head Chess Coach

Alvarado All-Stars

Sipapu, New Mexico

Wild Mountain Colibri: A Soldier’s Prayer

(Dedicated to peace activist and writer, Maxine Hong Kingston: friend, mentor, and recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts.)

All the energies of the

wild mountain colibri

are on our side

but even so

Great Spirit

we flutter from

near and far

all the joy and happiness and hope

from our wings to yours

that you may see clearly

the truth of our lives–

and find our truth

to be true.

Alex ‘Tele Mon’ Limkin

Captain, U.S Army, Retired

National Ski Patroller

Head Chess Coach

Alvarado All-Stars

First Response, Sipapu…………………………………………..Photo: Jonah ‘Drift’ Thompson
Wild Mountain Colibri
Hora de dormir (Time to go to bed)
Reunion with Sons, July 2019
Reunion, Los Duranes, Albuquerque
Spread your wings, Colibri!
Raise your wings, Colibri!
Abigail Benally, 2011-2018, Mountain Dog
Abigail Benally, South Peak, Sandias, Skywalk 2012
9/19/19 — A Soldier’s Prayer

Darkening Sky

Hobbling among the rose bushes

and the choke cherries

I swing the weedwacker methodically

back and forth

letting the engine regain its strength

with each pass.

It is difficult to learn a skill

so thoroughly

that it can never be erased sufficiently

forgotten suffiently

repudiated sufficiently.

The persistence of memory

in a soldier

is regrettable.

I swing the machine back and forth

splattering green plant flesh

onto my glasses, my legs,

my hands, and arms

and hobble on

beneath a darkening sky.

35 Pictures

My sister and I are 
long accustomed 
to fighting.

She doesn't think
I'm doing enough
with my life.

I don't think
she's doing enough
with hers.

Into my son's letters
goes a gummie
and a gum.

Without the extra postage
the letters come back
covered in marker
admonishing me.

So I am careful to
align two stamps
dress right dress.

I am also careful to eat
no more than a few 
of the gummies.

I feed my son things
my sister would never feed
her children.

She judges me for it
as I judge her.

I have seen my sister
eat an entire chocolate bar
numerous times.

Not suddenly. 
But bit by bit
until nothing is left.

It's actually not that unusual.
I have done the same
but faster.

It's silly to feud
with your sister
when there are 
so many others
worth fighting more.

So I offer her things
I spot around Avia's kitchen:
a cup of chai, some chocolate,
a bit of cheese.

Things she has bought.
But still.

Our mother taught us
how to love.

This is too important
to ignore.

Using my phone
my son takes pictures of
Avia's garden.

35 pictures he takes.

Of stone turtles
hanging chairs
the upper half
of a pine tree
a colony of mint 
a plastic dinosaur
a small mound of rocks
covering a tree stump
the side of my head
the front door
but from a distance.

It is silly to feud 
with your sister
when there are 
so many others
worth fighting more.

Into my son's letters
goes a gummie
and a gum.

Skywalk 2019

Starting off at 6:15am from Canyon Estates, Tijeras, May 11, 2019

A snowy forecast meant that Skywalk 2019 was only for the brave and the bold. In attendance was Brant McGee, a medic who served in Vietnam, Matt Huggins, a former Marine, and myself.

We hit snow and flowers after about an hour.
There was some post-holing and some profanity.
14 miles later the snow subsided.
13 hours and 25 miles later, the crew reaches Tunnel Springs, Placitas
At the Kaktus Cantina, Bernalillo, with James Janko, a medic who served in Vietnam, author of Buffalo Boy and Geronimo (2006) and The Clubhouse Thief (2018).
Until next time…

Next time will be Saturday, May 9, 2020.

In memoriam.

Colonel Ted Westhusing, 1960-2005, Airborne, Ranger, Infantry, Professor of Ethics, West Point, New York.

Glass Windows

Sometimes my legs get snowed on when I go outside to fetch wood. I guess I deserve what I got. I live up high in the valley. Glass windows to look out through. A stove that cackles when the artichokes catch snow, a pot that smokes, and skis, two pairs of skis, that whimper time to time. Through the glass I can see a great big mountain I have climbed on special occasions to leave special things like ashes of loved thing ashes of loved things a world away–and my pelvis don’t function like it used to. I been snowed in–and on–plenty. Ain’t always comfortable out there in the cold and wet. I been in some hairyness. Never in a major charge. But I been a picket plenty. Been through the ranger training with Darby. Was awful. Worse than any missions run in the field when you factor in the food and sleep lost. And the terrible cold. I run messages through enemy tunnels. Had to talk my way out of a lynching or two along the way. Knew the language some. Kapampangan. Picked it up on the Government Issue Bill. But the Government been good to us. A Veteran paid surgeon going to pull some old metal out my leg that starting to rust in a fortnight. I suspect the anesthesia will be about the same going out as going in. Two stiff pulls and a cord of wood. And a prayer in the name of fair Sanders who saw human in our kind and helped us out through the long nights from the beginning.

— Tele Mon, soldier, freespirit, telemarcoeur, father, poet, mountaineer, lover of Peace

Holocaust of the Heart

All the tulips in your Avia’s garden pray 

they will see you again soon, my son.

On the painting your Avia made for you

of the yard in which you have enjoyed

picking cherries with your Papa

(but not recently)

you drew us in

with your index finger

filling that yard with your hopes and dreams.

All the tulips in your Avia’s garden pray

they will see you again soon, my son.

That this holocaust of our hearts may end.

That you may see your northern home again

jump on your trampoline

and dance in the shade  of the capulin.

All the tulips in your Avia’s garden pray

in this way to this day.

          – Alex ‘Tele’ Limkin

April 8, 2019

                                    Disabled American Veteran (DAV)                                                                          U.S. Army, 1990-2005                                    

Infantry, Ranger, Captain                                     Bronze Star Recipient                                     Senior Ski Patroller                                     Sipapu, New Mexico                                     Assistant Chess Coach                                     Monte Vista Penguins                                     Learners Chess Academy

Albuquerque, New Mexico

April 7, 2019, E.B.L. “When can I see my Avia?”