4 Peaks…and a Dream

On May 17, 2016 at the Carmichael Library, starting at 4pm, I’ll be showing a slideshow and talking about my adventures summiting the 5 amazing peaks I climbed with my son. Come see some outstanding scenery  — right in our backyard! (The northern Sierra Nevada)

Here’s what the Library has to say about the show:

“Dierdre W — climber, runner, writer, musician and retired professor — will talk about conquering the peaks she dreamed of summiting ever since she started climbing a few years ago…with a bonus. Sharing a rope with her son, the most famous climber in the world, Dierdre has conquered 5 of America’s outstanding peaks, and written about them for magazines in the US and abroad. Come listen to her share some of her exciting stories!”

I hope you can make it! Bring all your questions. Bring the family. We’re going to have fun looking at the most unforgettable, incredible scenery!

See you there. 🙂295268_326306457423663_1386992583_n



A supremely inspiring marathon

I started this series of blogs by writing about inspiring others. Most of the time, we never know who we touch by our example. More often than not, we don’t even know them (as you read in my first blog).

Several years ago, my daughter asked me, a beginning runner, if I would drive her to her first marathon, in the Napa Valley (from the Sacramento Valley, about an hour away). A marathon! I was in awe. “Marathon”…a term used in hyperbole, to mean anything so grandiose as to be unattainable or unimaginable, as in, “The project was a marathon of work!”

My little baby was going to run so far that other people (including me) find it unattainable. Wow.

So of course I said yes. And since I was beginning to run, too, I checked out the map of Napa, to see where I could run while I waited for her.

The idea of running 26.2 miles seemed outrageous to me. At that distance, you could probably run across the whole country of Liechtenstein! The entire principality of Monaco! Closer to home, 26.2 miles could take you through five cities, from Folsom all the way to Sacramento — the course of the California International Marathon.


The day of the marathon was dark, gray, cold, windy and wet. Fortunately, Stasia is very experienced at running in the rain (she lives in Portland, and loves it). After I dropped her off at the northern end of the Napa Valley, I drove back down to the town of Napa at the south end, and parked.

The route I had planned for myself was about six miles long. Doable, no matter how slowly I ran (I hate running in the rain!), and I’d still be able to be there when she ran in at the Finish.

I had watched Stasia get ready that morning. Special tights that don’t bind, even in the rain, special socks that don’t ride up or down, special shoes that don’t weigh anything, special light-weight jacket (rain resistant!) — it seemed that everything she owned was different. Special. I had no clue what some of it was for.

After my run, I changed my shoes, got my umbrella out of the car and walked to the Finish line. I had never been to a marathon. I only knew that they blocked traffic and caused street closures all around town. It all seemed unnecessary, just to allow a bunch of people to go running. Couldn’t they just run on their own?

As I huddled under my umbrella watching runners come in, I thought about the carbo-load dinner the night before. There were speeches, stories, lots of laughter. But I was an outsider. It was like going to someone else’s house for the holidays, where everyone talks about past events and silly family anecdotes and all you can do is smile and pretend you belong.

Now, as I stood in the pouring rain watching them run in to the Finish line, it hit me just how far outside their circle I was. My daughter had just done something that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. But I wanted to.

Suddenly, I wanted to feel the depth of joy that I saw on their faces, even on the ones contorted in pain, as they realized they’d finished.

I wanted to know what that kind of determination felt like.

I wanted to understand!

So the next week, I signed up for my first marathon. To friends who asked, I said that, well, yes, I’d signed up…but who knew if I was actually going to do it? But I knew.

As I began to train for it, I told myself that I wasn’t going to let myself waste all that money (it costs big bucks to run in a marathon — another surprise!). But it had nothing to do with money. In that part of you where you just can’t lie to yourself, I knew I had to do this.

It made no sense, logically. I wasn’t a real runner. I had trouble breathing. I didn’t have the time to train for it. I was a teacher and a writer; I spent my days at a desk or in a classroom. Sitting. It made absolutely no sense.

And yet.

I did finish that first marathon, a few months after Stasia’s. And then I went on to do three more.

I get it now.

Stasia probably has no idea how much she inspired me that day. Made me believe. Until that day, I was a bystander.

Now I believe I can do what I had thought was impossible. Now I know why the car decals given out at the marathon say “I believe in 26.2.” I used to think that was just hokey marketing.

Now I know.


A different sense of Proust (can you smell the music?)

Do you have a favorite song, or piece of music, that whisks you back to a memorable point in your life the instant you hear it? Maybe makes you cry, or remember your first love, your Grandma, or a pet you still miss?

The French writer Marcel Proust began his famous, epic-length novel series “In Search of Lost Time” (also called, in English, “In Remembrance of Things Past”), with a scene where the smell and taste of a madeleine dipped in tea creates a sudden overwhelming string of memories he can’t resist.

In his world, and I’ve read this in many articles since studying Proust, the sense of smell jolts the strongest memories, stronger than from any other of the five senses.

That may be — but for me, a strain of music can accomplish the same thing.

Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” always stops me in my tracks. As a little kid of 4 or 5, I saw it performed outdoors, complete with fireworks and cannon and chimes. And not just plain fireworks, but the kind that form real pictures as they blossom in the sky. These were of soldiers kneeling and shooting their rifles, from one side of the sky to the other.

I haven’t seen fireworks like that since I was little.

Any time I hear the “Zampa” Overture, by Héraut, I have to hop up and crank up the volume. My orchestra worked on that for months, and once we had it down, we performed it at every concert where it was an appropriate-length piece. The violins worked furiously! The tempo was wild! Toes tap intently, rapidly. Body parts move to the incessant push of it. It’s irresistible, and it was ours.

A movie that marked me as a little kid was one you’ve probably never heard of, “Miracle of the White Stallions.” During WWII, the Lippizaner stallions from the world-famous Spanish Riding School of Vienna were in danger. They had to be moved, for their safety; it was war movie, but for me, it was a horse movie. What little girl doesn’t love horses?!

And what horses they were! They danced, and pranced, and pirouetted to classical music, my first love. Throughout the movie, they played Schubert’s “Marche Militaire” (Military March), and still today, decades later, that march always whisks me back to the grand, panoramic scenes (a movie screen is enormous, when you’re five) of those impressive animals, dancing to that music.

Any time I hear Lara’s theme from the movie “Dr. Zhivago,” I see my father, sitting in his favorite stuffed flute-back chair next to the piano, reading his Sunday New York Times and listening dreamily as I played it. Each time I finished, he’d nod slowly, as if he’d just finally understood something, and say, “Play it again.”

The list is long! I have a slew of pieces that evoke instant memories, good or bad. How about you?

Go ahead — try it. Dig back. Think of a song or an instrumental piece you used to love. Where were you when you first heard it? How about the thousandth time? What need did it fill for you? Does it still?

Music can be a powerful experience. I hope you get to experience that power.