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Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel: Thankful for the good things

Local Commentary

Posted: December 31, 2008 3:36 p.m.
Updated: January 1, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Being stuck in a snowstorm - actually, buried in snow inside a car for nearly 30 hours without food or drink - gives one plenty of time to think about life and death.

Despite also having experienced a broken window on the driver's side of my car and trying to keep the snow out with a trash bag that was too small for the window, I spent my time organizing my thoughts, thinking about the good, the bad and all the things I have had in my life: material, spiritual and, most important, my family and friends.

I was returning from Bishop, where I had given my uncle a birthday party - his 87th. He is suffering from cancer, and it might be his last birthday.

He had a ball. All his old friends were there, and they all had a marvelous time. I thought about this when I was under that pile of snow, and I thought about my friends, and like him, how lucky I was to have each and every one of them.

My family - husband, Don; daughter, Christina; son-in-law, Bruce; and little grandson John - came to mind a lot through the night as I was trying to keep warm.

Nothing quite compares to family. The outpouring of love and affection, the smiles, the deep understanding, the trials and tribulations - this is what makes life worth living. Thoughts of them all kept me warm and made me smile.

I thought about all my accomplishments, things that have brought a modicum of accolades to my life. I've climbed Everest, Cho-Oyu, Yufuin and Mt. Fuji. I've acted in films, movies and commercials - tons of them.

I've traveled to the far reaches of the Earth and done some really crazy, adventurous things like living in the Amazon jungle and surviving on larvae and fruit. (Okay, I gathered the bugs, but I wasn't game enough to actually try them.)

I fed alligators by hand in the swamps in Florida; I've gone diving with sharks and stingrays; I've flown in gliders; I've jumped off a cliff in Mexico; I took a research submersible to 1,800 feet to view stalked crinoids and a VW Thing in a ship's hold.

I've had a lot of successful business ventures, and now I'm working through the Community Hiking Club ( to preserve wilderness, help the condors survive and help keep the SCV a clean, environmentally healthy place to live.

I remove graffiti, pick up litter, remove truckloads of dumped trash, build hiking trails and more. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yada, yada, yada.

My biggest accomplishment? My daughter. She's the best thing that's ever happened to me.

I'm so lucky to have her. I'm so proud of her. And before being stuck in Palmdale neck-deep in the snow, when someone would ask me what I've done, my answer was the yada, yada, yada above. Not anymore. My daughter is the best. Ask me now. Can you hear me now?

I am sure you've all seen the hate among lots of people lately - political parties hate each other, people on opposite sides of different propositions hate each other, and some people are still spouting racially motivated hate.

I had time to think about all of this, too. It seems to me that people have lost respect for one another and need to put all this hate into perspective.

Our country was founded so we could all think for ourselves, believe in the things we want to believe in and not be persecuted for it. People need to be respected for what they believe in. They should not be criticized because they don't believe in the same things that you do.

What if we were attacked by beings from a planet yet unknown to us? Would we stand together as human beings or stand alone because of our hate?

This is something each and every one of us needs to answer in our hearts. We could be a lot nicer, more tolerant and loving as a nation.

The economy was something that kept coming back into my mind. If my husband and I were to sell our investment portfolio today, it would be a little less than we had expected it would be a few years ago.

Was I angry about this? No. Not really. While money certainly makes life easier in our society, it is not the most important thing. Neither are expensive presents, the best cars, the best furniture, nor the biggest house with the highest mortgage.

I think if you meet me now, you will find a kinder, gentler soul. One who will spend even more time trying to "give back."

I mentioned wilderness and condors before. These issues are close to my heart and will remain the focus of my attention.

Before the snow covered my windshield and I could still see out, I delighted in the sight of the snow-covered Pleasant View Ridge, one of the mountains I am currently trying to help get Congress to vote into wilderness.

The sight was amazing. Such beautiful, impenetrable peaks and steep, inaccessible valleys are truly a site to behold. How fitting that this proposed wilderness area that I had helped to map, and lobbied for in Washington, D.C., was the last thing I could see through my windshield.

I love each and every one of the mountains and rivers that I've worked on. My thoughts went to the importance of my endeavors, and I realized that by working to protect them, I was helping to ensure their pristine survival for generations - and some day, progeny that I cannot even dream about could be enjoying this same, beautiful view that I was witnessing.

If I had died under that pile of snow, I had found the true meaning of Christmas. It was love, kindness, consideration, tolerance and grace.

I wish this for all of you; happy New Year.

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and president of the Santa Clarita Valley Community Hiking Club. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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