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The Importance of Place: Rancho La Puerta

Rancho La Puerta
Rancho La Puerta: Heaven on Earth

There’s no better moment than right now. Here I am relaxing on a rustic lounge chair, looking at a favorite mountain, throughly relishing this experience. Why?

I’m at my idea of Heaven on Earth—Rancho La Puerta—celebrating a 70th birthday of a very special and long time friend. And while reaching 70 and spending it at a Fitness Resort is no insignificant accomplishment, this one is especially poignant.

For you see, my friend, and I have been coming here for years to appreciate fact we have both survived life threatening illnesses. We were both diagnosed with icky health problems somewhere around turning 40.

Rancho La Puerta
Rancho La Puerta

In fact, about 14 years ago, we left the Ranch with words unsaid but not unthought, that we might not return together. Kathy needed a liver transplant as a result of a long battle with an auto-immune disease.

At that visit, she could barely make the lovely walk to the dining hall for the special vegetarian and organic meals. She slept in late when I went for hikes. She took naps when I did pilates and spin and stretching. I think she fell asleep during mediation. She was a very sick lady.

Rancho La Puerta
Rancho La Puerta is a great spot for hiking.

As we were leaving, she said, “Sue, I want to come back and climb that mountain with you.”

“You got it,” my instant response.

We planned to climb to the special tree shown below.

Rancho La Puerta
Hiking to Alex’s Tree became a goal.

So I got a wonderful image of the mountain, cut out photos of us in exercise clothes and pasted them on the mountain and framed it in a cheerful red frame, showing us meeting that goal. She kept the photo close at hand during the two years of waiting for a liver transplant and the recovery time afterwards.

Within a couple of years after her “Gift of Life” we made it back to the Ranch, and while it was a struggle, we climbed the mountain (or at least part of it) and took our pictures to mark the day. I couldn’t put my hands on that photo so I am including one of her daughter and good friend who recently made the  trek.

Climbing to Alex’s Tree at Rancho La Puerta  

Talk about a meaningful place! An incredible moment.

We’ve been back to the Ranch a couple times since but no time is sweeter than this. Kathy and I are celebrating her major birthday. She’s playing tennis, walking two miles to the organic garden and might even take a hola hoop class. She enjoys her grandchildren and loves traveling with her now retired husband.

Kathy Leech, celebrating her birthday at Rancho La Puerta
Happy Birthday, Kathy
Rancho La Puerta Birthday Celebration
Celebrating a special birthday at the Ranch

Yep…..I’m relishing this moment.


Rancho La Puerta is my idea of heaven. To understand why, here’s a post  I wrote several years ago Called Camp for Grown Ups.

Or you might enjoy Rancho La Puerta: Heaven On Earth. 

Rancho La Puerta
Rancho La Puerta
Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Julie Hawksworth
    May 23, 2016 Reply

    Beautiful, happy post Susan, thanks for sharing!

  2. posted by
    May 23, 2016 Reply

    What a touching journey over all these years. Makes me feel joyful!

  3. posted by
    Margaret Idema
    May 23, 2016 Reply

    Susan, you are a gift to others in so many ways…so happy for Kathy that she could celebrate a special birthday with you, Clara and her daughter.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      May 26, 2016 Reply

      I was happy that Amanda could share the experience with us as well.

  4. posted by
    May 23, 2016 Reply

    No better place to celebrate 70 years of life. Thank you for your beautiful post!

  5. posted by
    sallie bowie
    May 24, 2016 Reply

    susan, what a wonderful and joyous experience with your friend Kathy, How to begin to imagine your feeling at that moment of reaching the top. Incredible! Everyone needs a good friend like you

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      May 26, 2016 Reply

      Thank you for your nice comment Sallie. I am the lucky one–so very lucky to have long time friend like Kathy.

  6. posted by
    Nancy H
    May 24, 2016 Reply

    How special are the life journeys we each take! And what a blessed time to get to celebrate a milestone birthday with Kathy! Like you, I met Kathy teaching across the hall from her at the same suburban high school where you met. And now I just happen to live in the same community as Kathy where my husband Mark just retired from a twenty-year career as a college professor! I believe you also were colleagues for a time at that same suburban high school. Blessings on your journey!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      May 26, 2016 Reply

      How nice to hear from you Nancy. I do remember your name from our Trenton High School days. Thank for reaching out.

  7. posted by
    Rancho La Puerta Transitions | DesignDestinations
    Aug 8, 2016 Reply

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