Holding onto the Thread

Those of us in the Wilderness Guides Council who are no longer actively leading trips or are beginning to slow down in how many we lead, belong to the organization’s “elders council”. We are a diverse group of folks ranging in age from 65 to 89, sharing our thoughts about moving into this next phase of our lives. I find our bimonthly zoom conversations helpful, honest, and insightful to my own aging. We were each asked to write a reflection about this transition which I also share here as a blog post.

Many of my peers are engaging in different versions of the question, “How am I transitioning into my elder years?” I share some of my thoughts here and encourage yours.

I turn first to William Stafford’s remarkable poem:

                   The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

                                                   By William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

This is the poem we always shared with people from our Cascadia Quest as they prepared to return home, encouraging them to integrate the insights they had found from their time on the quest. This is a poem that speaks to me deeply. It encourages me to articulate how I am holding the “Thread” at this time in my life.

I have always trusted the world of nature and it has rewarded me with endless wonder. My earliest childhood memory is lying on my back in our backyard staring at clouds and making up stories about mysterious figures in the sky. Growing up in the 1950’s, a little white girl in small town Minnesota, I had tremendous freedom to roam the fields, forests, and nearby stream in all seasons.

When I was twelve, I took my three-year-old sister to look for crawdads at Turtle Creek on the back of my Raleigh 3-speed bicycle. At sixteen, as a YMCA camp counselor in northern Minnesota, I took eight-year-olds on overnight canoe trips.

Sharing the mystery and beauty of nature with others has been the guiding thread in my life. I was a botany major who became a Forest Service naturalist, schoolteacher, mother, grandmother, kayaking and wilderness guide. In 1990, friends and I published, Teaching Kids to Love the Earth (University of Minnesota Press). In 1992 I kayaked around the shore of Lake Superior—a journey of 1800 miles and 65 days. To pay homage to this feat and incorporate its lessons I wrote Deep Water Passage, a Spiritual Quest at Midlife (1995, Pocketbook).

Ann on her journey around Lake Superior

Though I knew little about the rites of passage movement emerging in a transfer and amalgam of Native knowledge into the white naturalist community, the Lake Superior journey set me to reading—pre-internet—to understand the deeper spiritual longings underneath my physical feat. That reading eventually led me to The School of Lost Borders and introduced me to Anne Stine. In 2004, she and I designed Elderquests for women 50 and older in the Inyo mountains of California.

Anne Stine and Ann at their Elderquest basecamp in the Inyo Mountains        









Guiding dovetailed with the pioneering work Christina Baldwin and I offered to integrate the collaborative wisdom of circle within the hierarchical structures of modern business, education, medicine, and governance The Circle Way, A Leader in Every Chair (2010, Berrett-Koehler). While this work took us indoors, there was always a “campfire” in the center, and the patterns of severance, threshold, solo, and incorporation, were also present.

In 2010 Christina Baldwin, Deborah Greene-Jacobi and I designed Cascadia Quest, melding lineages from Lost Borders, The Circle Way, and Angeles Arrien’s Fourfold Way.  We offered that quest to women and men in eastern Washington until retiring from the work in 2021.

Ann, Deborah-Greene-Jacobi, Christina Baldwin, Vivi as mascot











In my 70’s guiding and sharing nature with others looks different than in previous decades, but it is still a strong thread that brings purpose into my life. Whether taking friends and family for local walks or paddles, hosting our summer Granny camps, leading local Land Trust hikes or coordinating environmental education activities with school groups, I help people set aside the human story and become quiet enough to hear the Nature story. Keepers of the Trees (2010, Skyhorse Publishing)

Ann and Vivi on one of their first Medicine Walks at the beginning of the pandemic, a weekly spiritual practice for both of them.

My ability to implement my passion is slower in my seventies. Hikes are shorter, camping requires a larger tent and thicker pad, paddling requires a lightweight kayak, and formal solo-time is self-designed with my partner as basecamp. And even those adjustments will change and morph as my body ages. I hope for more years to love this beautiful Earth. And when dying comes, I pray to lay myself down gently in the duff of the forest.

36 replies
  1. Marina D. Lachecki
    Marina D. Lachecki says:

    such a beautiful review of your life’s relationship with the earth, its passages and legacy gifts of writing and sharing your story and the stories of others.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, dear co-author of Teaching Kids to Love the Earth and very longtime friend! With appreciation for the similarities of our journeys. Love, Ann

  2. Arlene A Tallberg
    Arlene A Tallberg says:

    I love all that you shared here. I always do. I really enjoyed the poem before your comments. And I was first interested in you as
    a person after reading “Deep Waters.” It started my love of kayaking! When I downsized way down! when I moved I got rid of most of my books, unfortunately. But I held on to yours and I always will.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you for these kind thoughts, Arlene. Nothing means more to an author than that her book has meaning over time.

  3. Suzanne Fageol
    Suzanne Fageol says:

    Hi Ann, For my last birthday, I requested an evening for me to “tell my life story” to a group of friends. I asked them to just listen – so commentary, no feedback. It was quite a revelatory process. Finding the thread and naming it was very helpful for moving forward into my elder years. To see you lay out yours on this blog page is heartening. Maybe we, who are of a certain age, are all being led to do the same. How this unfolds in our final years and slowly down is a mystery yet to unfold. I, too, hope to “lay myself down gently in the duff of the forest” or at least under a tree…

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Oh, Suzanne, thank you for this! A big part of my invitation in writing this was to get others to share their reflections. You have modeled an excellent idea for others to follow.

  4. Jude
    Jude says:

    Thank you Ann for this timely reminder to not lose sight of that thread, even when it might feel a bit mysterious. I am grateful for all of the ways your life, love of the earth, relationships and work have been a shining example of listening to and following that thread. Best wishes to you as you continue your work as elder – sharing your love and care of the earth. Well done, dear Ann.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Your kind thoughts are very much appreciated, Jude.You, too, have charted a fine path of teacher and naturalist. Thank YOU for that. Ann

  5. Larry Houff
    Larry Houff says:

    I am in complete awe everytime I hear from Ann. It’s something I regret I hadn’t done as a younger person. I’m lucky to watch our oldest daughter get interviewed about her work, which might seem trivial, but she is a photographer who now only works with a doll named Barbie. People don’t understand that Barbie is a doll that came along at the right time and can be an encouragement for young girls to become anything they want. Nicole started as a fashion photographer, but wanted to do something fun, but had a message if you wanted. Sometime take a look at Nicole Houff Photography.com. Many a young person has been encouraged to try something new with their life, something exciting. As a father of three daughters I’m always excited to see opportunities open for women. When Ann and I were in school, women might become a teacher or a nurse earning much less than men. I’m glad to have lived long enough to see exciting changes.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Larry, I had a lot of fun going to Nicole’s website. My goodness, she should be very well poised to have her business take off with all the attention around the new Barbie movie! You are so right about being raised in an era with few options for young women. So wonderful to see all the opportunities open to women now. I have fun telling young women athletes that when I ran my first marathon in 1972 there were NO running shoes for women. I ran the whole Salt Lake City marathon in Penny’s tennis shoes! Things are mostly changing for the better and bravo to you, father of three daughters, for being a part of those changing attitudes!

  6. helga grout
    helga grout says:

    I reflect so fondly of both Cascadia Vision Quests I participated in. There was so much to learn and so many insights to keep integrating into the dream and life I have created here at Ruby Two Moons at Ruby Lake. To find the path of nature is to find the path of the soul and all noise and distractions are left behind even if only for a moment. It Hugs to you Anne.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Helga, I love knowing that you are still working with Ruby Two Moons! Talk about an ongoing incorporation and holding onto the thread! Beautiful, Ann

  7. Meredith Jordan
    Meredith Jordan says:

    As always, Ann, hearing from you prompts some self-reflection. First, I want to acknowledge that, going into my 77th year, I’m happy to look back on my family and my life’s work with much joy. I’m slower and calmer, spend more time in solitude now. A beautiful day for me is to sit on my small balcony and look down the long corridor of pollinator gardens that I created and are now in full bloom. I think about coming to the end of this beautiful (and sometimes very painful) life and am mostly at peace. I’m grateful to have served as a visionary, alongside companions like you and Christina. Still more to do, perhaps a little more slowly and mindfully, but hopefully moving into late elderhood with grace of spirit.

    much love,

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Dear Meredith, This is beautifully written and speaks with joy and clarity about the stage of elderhood you define for yourself. It is a powerful teaching tale. With appreciation, Ann

  8. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    Oh, my friend, there is so much more than a thread running through your life. It’s a steel cable. I am so in awe. It seems you have had a clear vision of who you are and where you were placing your feet for many of your decades. And so it continues.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Dear Gretchen, May it indeed continue for both of us—with joy, spontaneity and some measure of clarity. Love, Ann

  9. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    Such a beautiful history of service. (I remember reading clouds when I was young too!) Sometimes I wish I had made other choices along my path, but I am keenly aware that removing even one thread unravels a thousand others. Grateful for the ways I get to connect to nature now as I age and very glad my thread managed to weave its way into a pattern shared by you. Carry on as you do the good work of the earth.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, Bonnie. Your blog and photography are such a service of joy to the earth and your readers! Carry on in beauty! Ann

  10. Sandi Chamberlain
    Sandi Chamberlain says:

    What an inspiration you always are! Next month I turn 77 and as each birthday approaches I take time to think about my life. This time I’ll think in terms of following the thread. Thank you.
    It’s been way too many years since we’ve had any contact but you remain in my heart.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Oh, Sandi! What an absolute delight ii is to hear from you! The vision quest we co-led on Twin Island was the very first I had the privilege of participating in as a guide. Such good learning we did together. Your comment about reviewing your life at your birthday each year and this year using the thread analogy means so much to me. Inspiring others is exactly why I wrote this blog. Bless you, Ann

  11. Judy Todd
    Judy Todd says:

    How can I not reach out and say ‘Thank You’ to you Ann!
    I am encouraged, mentored, reminded, reflected, and taught the best when in your company, whether through a circle in the forest, a book, a webpost, an email, a zoom call, or –great delight– in your presence. (Deep bow to Christine, which is how I found you!)
    I vow to tell my own story with lightness and love.
    Thank you always,

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Hello Judy! Thank you for your kind comments and, yes, please keep that vow to tell your own, fine story with lightness and love! Ann

  12. James Wells
    James Wells says:

    It’s always refreshing and helpful to read your bone-honest reflections, Ann. Thank you! Hugs from Toronto.

  13. Anne Stine
    Anne Stine says:

    Your story, your life, your words of such wisdom and grace, your legacy for so many, and more…. all coming together in this magnificently woven thread of ‘being’. For the benefit of so many. My life is so enriched by our friendship. Thank you. Anne

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      My friend, thank you for this. Our lives have interwoven in powerful ways and such a privilege to have co-led quests all of those years in the Inyo Mountains together. And just as significant is our ongoing work on the elder’s council of the WGC. A joy when you can meet someone in your later years and become friends for the rest of your lives. Love, Ann

  14. Sharon Fleming
    Sharon Fleming says:

    Ann, I met you briefly at Christina’s final retreat last December, but I so enjoyed reading your words of wisdom today. I thank you for the reminder about the thread that weaves itself throughout our lifetime, and I’ll keep that thought in mind as I continue to write my life stories.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Dear Sharon, Yes, keep writing and articulating for yourself the thread that weaves through your fine life. And, yes, Christina’s last SAS folks remain special in both our minds and hearts, so, of course, I remember you. Blessings, Ann

  15. Carol Secord
    Carol Secord says:

    I am touched by your writing always AND Holding the Thread is particularly stirring. I am grateful that you have followed your quest to explore and capture what is present in the Now moment that you find yourself in. Your writing always grounds me and guides me also to come back to nature, to pause and be present in my relationship with my self, with others and the natural world around me.
    Thank you.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Hello Carol! With appreciation for your kind comments. The thing that is most important to a writer is to know that her words are useful to another. Thank you for that blessing! Ann

  16. Katharine Weinmann
    Katharine Weinmann says:

    Ahhh, finally the bandwidth to read, with respect and love, both this and Christina’s latest blog on the practice of writing. I’m struck how both are a chronicling of your life’s gifts to the world…the threads that you each held and braided together. I intuit an emerging threshold…prescience into what now? How blessed I am to know you both.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Dear Katharine, Yes, at our ages, definitely emerging thresholds . . . and, as always, the question a”What now?” Be well, friend.

  17. Steve
    Steve says:

    I met you many years ago on Whidbey Island where I bought your book Deep Water Passage. I thought I was just buying a book about high adventure in a Kayak. It turned out to be quite a bit more than that. It was so inspirational on many levels. At 77 I still kayak in my old Sea Lion that I have had for 30 years, and every time I put it in the water I think of the story I read about the woman who paddled around Lake Superior. I guess I could say you are one of my heroes.

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Dear Steve, What a gift this piece of writing is to me this morning. Thank you. I, too, still kayak often. However, in my mid-70s I have purchased a lighter weight boat that I can get on and off the car and to the beach by myself. (Not very many people still kayaking at our ages, so I really don’t have a paddling buddy.) And each year I practice my self rescue—still able to do it! Several years ago I offered Grace up to the person with the best story. A young firefighter from Snohomish “won” my little essay contest. He came and picked that wonderful boat up with his two young sons. I imagine all the ways Grace has a new life. Blessings, Ann

  18. Julie Glover
    Julie Glover says:

    FINALLY got a chance to read this!
    Yes to everything!
    I am discovering my own thread (it has to do with music — giving voice to the current of love that is around and among us all the time). If you know any musical prayers or other music that would bring comfort when offered in times of need, please send them on. Music is meant to be shared! LOVE YOU!!!! 😘 ❤️ ME :o)

    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Absolutely your thread is music! Lucky our community that you live here and are so generous with your thread. Blessings, Ann

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