So Worth It: Jessica Baker's Tips For Being Present

Its 4 a.m., my alarm is going off and I’m confused. Where am I this time? What’s my objective? Why is my alarm going off? I reach over, and my baby girl is by my side warm and breathing softly. I can make the outline of her fine strawberry blonde hair in the glow of the nightlight. I’m at home. I’m going skiing today. A bigger objective in the park, and I’m meeting my client at 6 a.m. at the trailhead. Easing out of bed so not to wake my little one, I throw on my robe and head for the coffee grinder.

The aroma of the beans sends endorphins into my body and my synapses begin to fire. I pull up the weather on my computer as the water boils. First the avalanche report, then NOAA, Mountain Weather, Windy TV, the point forecast for 12,000 ft elevation in the Tetons, and the radar. It snowed another six inches last night, and temps are to remain cold. Avalanche hazard is rated ‘moderate’. It’s going to be a good day in the mountains.

Coffee is the catalyst. I need to write a few emails, and I need to get packed up. Beacon, shovel, probe, Rad line, belay device, slings, skins, skis… oh geez, baby is crying, run into the bedroom soothe her. Where was I? Oh damn—that email—I’ve got to get it done. Ok and down jacket, extra gloves, rescue tarp, snow study kit. Its 5:30, I have got to go. Throw on my bibs, don’t forget the ski boots and ski crampons. Run out the door.

Stepping out of my vehicle at the trailhead, the air is crisp and I can see my breathe with every exhalation. My husband calls to ask where my eldest daughter’s mittens are. I think they’re in her room near her stuffed animals. It also reminds me that I need to sign the waiver for her fieldtrip. Oh, and the recent inquiry into one of my ski camps needs to be answered—I’ll do it tonight after the kids go to bed. I look at my phone and I see a text from Emilie for an expedition we’re planning in the spring. My mind starts racing. A million things to do.

But there is one thing I need to focus on in this moment.

I put my phone into airplane mode—it’s time to take in my current environment. Every day is a lesson in being present in the moment. It’s necessary for my sanity and happiness, just sometimes I have to remind myself of that.

It’s still dark out, and it won’t get light for another couple hours. The snow squeaks under the Vibram soles of my touring boots and perfectly preserved stellars are sparkling as they reflect the light from my headlamp. I click into my tech bindings and perform a beacon function test for my client and myself. We take off into the dark, swoosh, swoosh, breathe.  And it all falls away—the chaos, the work load, the extraneous responsibility, the worry, the doubt…it slowly disintegrates with each glide forward, with each stride. With each breath I become one with my environment and my immediate world becomes the most important.

Deep red alpenglow builds along the eastern horizon. The snow reflects purple crimson, and I look back at the skin track I’m setting, nestled into the new snow, the first portion of my painting; the skiing back down will finish the masterpiece. Alpenglow gives way to a golden sunrise and our progress picks up as the daylight gives us energy.

The mountains are still here, majestic, indifferent, blanketed under snow, and whispering their ancient knowledge within the wind’s currents. I am deeply thankful to be here. And I am glad the scenery takes some of the enormity of today’s task off the mind. I like to track my vertical movement, but sometimes progress can feel sluggish, and often it’s just better to focus on the view and the snowpack under my feet.

We ascend for several more hours before arriving at our destination. We transition to downhill mode. I dig a snow pit to assess our snowpack one more time. The snow is mostly homogenous with a couple layers of concern. We will stay vigilant and observant. I make a cut across the slope with no reaction and then dive into a series of soft, velvety turns. In this moment it has all come together. It’s all worth it: the juggling, the planning, the hard work. The crescendo is now, and I am thoroughly enjoying every bit of it.

Several hours later we return to the parking lot, eyes shining, souls full. I take my phone out of airplane mode, I make my guide check in, I call my husband to make sure everything is okay. With exuberant high fives I say goodbye to my client, then take a moment to breathe in the air and take in this space before I head back home.

It’s not easy to make time for the things we love the most. We’re all busy. But here are five things I’ve learned that help me manage. Maybe they can help you be more present, too.

  1. Make your time quality time. Don’t try to do everything at once, set aside time for each.
  2. Write a list, prioritize your needs and work load. Cross each item off as you successfully complete it.
  3. When spending time with your kids and family, put your phone away. It’s only a distraction, and it takes you away from the precious moments you have with them.
  4. Allow yourself to enjoy your own special time, whether it’s going for a walk, skiing, climbing, biking, whatever, take advantage of that time and don’t feel bad about it.
  5. Make goals; daily, weekly, yearly, and five years out. This helps you prioritize your life, and also allows you to dream big and keep working towards the things that inspire you.\

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Photos by Joey Schusler and Thomas Woodson.