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A Lesson In Audacity From A Little Person

January 18, 2013
My audacious inspiration in Yellowstone’s sacred Lamar Valley.

As someone who writes and speaks for a living, the task of writing a short essay about the four year-old child who forever changed my life on a brilliant bluebird autumn day shouldn’t have caused such angst and procrastination.  But back in August, when my wife gave me the duty of composing a short narrative about our precocious and free-spirited daughter, as requested in an application for a school we were looking at in Kauai, I deferred the task out of fear that there was no way I could do Kamiah justice with my jumbled, but well-intentioned words.

Though the recent Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy has fallen from the headlines of our mainstream media, the little spirits of the children lost will always remain a source of hope, inspiration and goodness for all of those blessed to have shared precious time in their presence.  The little people parading around our world, wide-eyed and curious, spontaneous and honest, full of life and always loving, represent the very best of what it means to be a human being.  They are unknowingly compassionate, eager to lend a helping hand and have mastered the art of living in the moment.  While we are their caretakers and mentors, they are in so many ways our teachers.  There is indeed magic in being fully present with a child.

In the wake of the unconscionable loss of life and heartache endured by the grieving families of Sandy Hook, I’m not sure there is a better way to honor those beautiful children than by showering the little people in our lives with love and attention.  So today, I want to share a short essay written last summer about the most audacious and spirited person in my life.  She inspires me to reach higher, dig deeper, dream bigger and pursue my passion in order to live a life that matters, in hopes of ultimately making my little girl proud.


While sitting still isn’t Kamiah’s strong suit—following in her father’s footsteps—I took a page out of her book this afternoon by calming my overly active brain just long enough to reflect upon another magical Yellowstone summer gone by.

Writing for a living has its pros and cons—the art of procrastination representing both the former and latter—but since Kamiah took her first bold steps and linked her first words into an audacious statement, there has never been a shortage of material.  On this the last day of summer in Montana, I sat on the deck, reflecting on the adventures of our most glorious season, but I couldn’t help going deeper, looking at the lives that Kamiah has touched, enhanced and made more meaningful over the years.

Kamiah amazes me each and every day.  She is a fun, energetic and spirited little girl who attracts goodness and has already filled so many lives with the richness of her big heart and curious mind.

Closing out the season on another Yellowstone summer at our favorite, not to be named Wyoming campground.

She has hiked dozens of trails, fearlessly barreled down mountains on skis, eaten countless s’mores cooked over campfires in wild country, and endured blizzards, cold temperatures and long road trips, more often than not with her toothy smile and good natured persona.  But it is her impact on the world around her that gives me the greatest sense of joy and pride. Today, while driving through Yellowstone National Park’s Lamar Valley we came across a band of bison. It was our observant and concerned daughter, not either of her parents, who noticed that one of the bison was limping and with concern and sadness said, “I hope he gets better soon.”

And yet I still found excuses to postpone writing an essay that describes her strengths, knowing I could not adequately depict Kamiah’s vigor nor her distinctive personality.  It wasn’t until I heard her walk out the front door that my sentimental reverie brought me back to the present—a gift Kamiah presents multiple times per day.  When she walked back in the house with a paper towel in hand I asked, “What were you doing out there?”

Head tilted, eyes squinting, with typical nonchalance, she replied, “I just saved a bug.”

“How?” I asked.

“He was stuck in the house and I wrapped him in a towel and took him outside to his home.”

Then our little naturalist added, “He had yellow on his back.”

Countless lives have been enriched by Kamiah’s powerful life-force and positive outlook on whatever life presents us.  From a bus full of high school boys, heartsick over a loss at our district basketball tournament, whose tears were transformed into sudden bursts of laughter when Kamiah stomped her way up the steps of our Greyhound-style bus shouting, “Who let the dogs loose?” to the five adults from Pennsylvania who work on behalf of disabled people around the country that she captivated and entertained for three hours this past week while I attended to work matters, expressing their belief that, “She is so full of life and spunk. Michael, she’s going to change the world.”   Always eager to learn and share her newfound knowledge from school, she is as comfortable with adults as she is teens, but most of all, our social butterfly relishes those most precious moments with her peers.

Undeterred as a three year old adventurer exploring Spooky Canyon in Grand Staircase Escalante, Utah.

Independent and an organizer by nature, Kamiah has a reputation at school and on the playground as a leader.  She is often looked to for direction by her peers and is admired for her adventurous spirit and creative approach to play and make believe.  As sensitive as she is loving, Kamiah’s feelings are sometimes hurt when her friends decide to make their own choices, but she is beginning to grasp the reality that she is not the only one with a wild imagination and desire to lead.

Before Kamiah, the passing of each season in my life was measured by the number of mountains climbed, rivers run, trout caught and teenagers inspired to love and become guardians of our beloved Yellowstone Country.  And while these objectives continue to play an important role in my life’s mission, how well I embrace the teachings of Kamiah–how to love unconditionally, have compassion for all living beings, and experience true, unfettered and authentic happiness–has become my new measure of whether I and our family fully appreciate and learn what each season has to offer.

This morning we awoke to clear blue skies and cool autumn temperatures with frost decorating our tent, Yellowstone officially announcing the end of summer and beginning of fall.  Having spent her first four years in and around Yellowstone National Park, Kamiah’s wild spirit and steadfast determination reflects the land from which she comes.

When the pressures of our societal norms make me question whether pursuing my passion and a path of nonconformity is the most responsible thing to do, it is Kamiah who keeps me on track.  We must at some point demonstrate by example all that is possible for our children to become when we think outside of the box and pursue that which truly makes us tick.  Isn’t that what we want for our children?

Anytime we venture into uncharted waters, doubt and fear are likely to creep in.  For me, the unrestrained confidence of my little believer keeps me believing in the importance of my path.

One recent day on our way to school, we heard President Obama’s voice on NPR.  Kamiah cried, “Brock Obama! Daddy can we go find where he is and meet him?” I explained to her that that would be a big undertaking and highly unlikely.  She responded by saying, “But we need to give him a Be Audacious wristband, he doesn’t know about Be Audacious yet.”

And then with a smile she added, “But he will.”


They inspire us to dig deeper and reach higher in our quest to live more noble and honest lives. Now we must create a culture and society worthy of their future.

~Michael Leach

Kamiah reaching for the stars from nearly 11,000 fe the South Summit of Beartooth Pass, Montana.



3 Responses to A Lesson In Audacity From A Little Person

  1. Your words, combined with those pictures, provoke feelings deeper than I can possibly express. Thank you for sharing this with us. You weave together words and pictures in such a way that you create a rich, warm, colorful tapestry of life.