Bebo Andrews and Dennis Tharp remember hiking up to “The Dollhouse,” a unique rock formation in Canyonlands National Park. It was a tough hike on Audubon Rockies’s 2019 river trip through Cataract Canyon. Although it was 1,200 feet to the top, it was worth every step. On that late April day, the snow-capped peaks east of Moab popped out of the blue sky and a panoramic view of the Colorado River stretched below. It was a beautiful sight, a perfect example of the natural beauty that has helped Andrews and Tharp recover since the tragedy that struck their lives in 2014.
Andrews and Tharp are a married couple and retired lawyers who spend part of the year in Boulder, Colorado, and part in Kanab, Utah. In 2014, their world was upended when their son TJ suddenly passed away. During the grief that followed, Andrews happened to join Audubon Rockies’s email list. Right away she felt connected with the organization and its mission to protect birds and their habitat. She remembers seeing an announcement for an Audubon Rockies trip on the Yampa River. “I looked at the trip and I thought, ‘This is what I’ve always wanted to do. Maybe we could make a family trip out of this and celebrate TJ in a really positive way.’”
So that’s what they did. On the Yampa, they connected deeply with the other trip participants. They marveled at the wonders and connections between water and birds. And in that free-flowing river, they began to heal. Since then, Andrews and Tharp have attended every one of Audubon Rockies’s river trips. They have enjoyed trips with their daughter and son, as well as other family members and close friends. For them, rivers have become a symbol of hope and healing.
Audubon Rockies has come to feel like family to the couple too. Being on the river connects them with people of different backgrounds who sometimes also need to heal. They also enjoy learning from Abby Burk, western rivers regional program manager, and Alison Holloran, executive director of Audubon Rockies, who bring expertise on birds and how rivers function in the West. Andrews says that their guidance and the river trips have helped her see the solid link between birds and healthy rivers.
Because of this, Andrews and Tharp have also become important supporters of Audubon Rockies. Andrews said giving to Audubon Rockies is a chance for them to say thank you. To her, the work of Audubon Rockies is important because it is both collaborative and multi-faceted. “Audubon Rockies works on a number of fronts to promote bird habitat and environmental preservation,” said Andrews.
Both Andrews and Tharp encourage Audubon members to explore the many different opportunities to get involved or take action. From simply signing up for emails, to signing petitions, to donating money, everything counts.
Their passion and gratitude for Audubon Rockies shine in many ways. When asked how the river trips become a healing experience, Andrews said, “You just totally get away from it all. You really do shed all of the frenzy of your normal life and you get totally lost in the moment, and I think that’s really encouraged by the flow of the river.”
On the Audubon Rockies Grand Canyon river trip in May, 2018, Andrews heard one of the guides read a poem that spoke to her and her connection to nature:
“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairie and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
Are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
Excerpt from “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
The Tharp/Andrews family collaborated with the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club to install a commemorative bench, "TJ's River Rest", overlooking the Yampa River. The bench invites visitors to reflect upon the beauty and serenity of this special river corridor, along with the nourishing habitat and complementary recreational opportunities that its free-flowing status provides.