I’m writing this at truck stop in the heart of the midwest. Seven hours of driving today and we saw a lot of corn, a handful of Trump signs, no Clinton signs. It’s the night of the first presidential debate, which we’re watching in the Cricket. Travel sure does expand my world sometimes. On my best days I can stay curious in these unfamiliar environments and remain open enough to not judge people or places too quickly.
As far as the debate, I am curious. I’ve disconnected myself from both news and politics during these travels, which was a big lifestyle change for me. America is election obsessed. My friends and family are election obsessed. It took some real effort, and a studied conversational nonchalance, to keep my distance. It’s been very rewarding. And I know it can’t last forever because we’re going home, and because I really do care. Or, I did care, and I’m learning to do so in a new way.
In recent weeks I’ve been trying to write about a moment this summer with my mom that sparked me in a really helpful and surprising way. When Chris asks what I’m writing, I answer something like, “about how my mom and Chelsea Clinton helped me learn to hope again… isn’t that cheesy?”
I’ve been vacillating between simplifying to the point that it’s cheesy, and explaining so much that it’s long and windy. The moment seemed simple, but the things it touched in me are complex, and the whole topic of how and why I care is taking a while to unwind, unsurprisingly.
I need to start somewhere, and so I told myself I’d listen to tonight’s debate, with a background of idling semi’s, and write the story about my mom and Chelsea Clinton once and for all. All the rhizomes can come later.
On an afternoon in August, I was sitting on the porch at the farm. I was on a visit home. My parents were both there and we were each doing our own thing — reading, looking at iPads — and chatting a little.
It was shortly after both party conventions. Mom began to play a video of Chelsea Clinton’s introduction of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention. Up until this moment, I hadn’t watched a moment of either convention. Chris watched both, and I put in earbuds and played music, worked hard not to hear.
On the porch at my parent’s house, I listened. I hardly watched the video, except to look over my mom’s shoulder for a quick moment to see what Chelsea looks like these days. (She’s a few years younger than me and I remember her most clearly from when I was in high school. We’ve both grown up.) But with my feet kicked up on the railing, I mostly listened. I analyzed and commented a little too, and critiqued because I can’t help it.
And then one line hit me electrically. Fifteen seconds or so.
I watched the video again recently and it was a different experience. It wasn’t electrically charged. It was a matter of timing and openness in that moment, which is another reason it’s tricky to write this story.
Chelsea said something about her mom’s caring about stuff in the world, and going through bruising fights, and failing sometimes, and how family movie night helped. The spark. Family movie night. I remember staring at the garden and believing, It’s going to be ok.
I think my mom just wanted to catch up on a speech that she’d missed. I went along with listening just to be polite. What good synchronicity, made especially possible because of the mother-daughter connection! There’s nothing particularly magical about family movie night, but I guess there is something about family. Because something really shifted in that moment, it was such a relief. Thank you mom, for making that possible!
And thank you Chris, for being here with me to watch the debate at this truck stop in the middle of America.
We left home because I had to go.
In the early stages of planning, I remember Chris asking: Why not take a year off and stay here? It was difficult to say why I couldn’t do that, but I knew it wouldn’t get me what I needed. Or what we needed. I had wanderlust. Even though the journey I hoped for was an interior one, my metaphors — strong currents, compass points — were about travel. Something was calling me to the road.
The fifteen months of this “year” on the road have been filled with beauty, adventure, and life-expanding experience. We’ve laughed a lot. Even with the hardships we’ve been through, we live privileged lives. At times though, it has also been really really difficult.
This winter, we talked about going home. Maybe we should just go home? Chris asked more than once when I was unhappy or uncomfortable in seemingly unresolvable ways. I definitely considered it, but I didn’t want to go home. Even though going home would have alleviated several sources of immediate discomfort, I hadn’t yet done what I needed to do. That was clear to me.
What’s to be found, racing around
You carry your pain wherever you go
Full of the blues and trying to lose
You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know
During our desert wandering phase this spring, I listened over and over to Bob Weir singing “Black Throated Wind” — the lyrics perfectly capture something about angst under big American skies. I missed the familiar comforts of Connecticut and Massachusetts so badly by then, and I still didn’t want to turn around, go back. “These are the days that must happen to you,” as Whitman wrote in Songs of the Open Road.
This summer in Durango, I got more settled inside myself, and I also got excited about going home. There are many reasons. I understand more clearly what’s important to me. I’ve softened in ways that make me excited about the future. I’m comfortable with my present, too. Chris also has plans that bring us back to the east coast, and the timing is good.
And every stranger’s face I see
Reminds me that I long to be
I’m glad we traveled, and that we stayed out even when it was difficult. I’m also glad to be going home. To complement this excitement, I’ve been singing snippets of Simon and Garfunkel in the truck for weeks now, waiting for the right time to write a post with this title. Several detours after leaving Durango, finally, it’s true. We are homeward bound! And I really, really, want to be.
Of course, the song isn’t quite about my story. I’m a poet, yes, but not a one-man band. Making too much of song lyrics is never a good idea. But, like Weir, Simon and Garfunkel got the wistful melancholy right.
Home, where my thought’s escaping
I’m appreciating these last weeks of travel even more than usual, knowing that Chris and I won’t likely be connecting with the landscape like this, or enjoying this kind of quality time together, for a while. We’re not giving up on our sense of adventure though! That much I do know for sure. And there is a lot from this period in my life that I’ll want to process, over time. But for now? We’re in Montana, and we’re homeward bound.
Last year, circumstances resulted in Chris going to Burning Man alone. This year we attended together. Wow! I had an awesome time and I hope I’m able to go back next year, or soon thereafter. I think it would only get better with experience.
There’s a narrative arc to my week, the ways in which I responded to the events around me. I found myself becoming more open as the week went on. As I found my niche, I also felt more at home. I started to understand more clearly why people get so excited (and devoted to) this crazy event. There’s so much I could say about our experiences — here are a few things that really stuck with me.
The desert tries to kill everything, including your relationship
On our third date, Chris and I discovered that we had both recently burned upright pianos — and that we both think this sort of thing is a ton of fun. I remember thinking, and telling friends, that the connection seemed auspicious. Still, it was beyond my imagination that almost ten years later we would be on playa together participating in burns of a different scale!
I’ve heard from several sources that Burning Man can wreak havoc for couples. There’s a “relationship survival” guide on the Burning Man website, and “How Burning Man is going to destroy your relationship” was this year’s cover story in BRC Weekly. So I’m kind of proud of the many ways Chris and I got along during the intense week of activity. A new friend, one of our across-the-street neighbors, commented to me that Chris and I work well together and don’t seem to fight. That’s mostly true, although we certainly did have our moments.
Yes, there are many relationship challenges at Burning Man; one of the biggest was described well in the above-mentioned BRC Weekly article:
This place is a never-ending series of distractions, and the distance between what you THINK you are going to do at any point in the day vs. what you ACTUALLY end up doing can be measured in light years.
Your partner can tell you that they are just headed out to get some ice, and end up coming back three hours later because they ended up getting involved in trying to set the world’s record for the world’s longest conga line or some shit.
Chris & I had those moments of distraction or missed expectations, along with the hungry, cold, hot, dehydrated, tired, or overwhelmed moments too, all of which create pressures inside a partnership. Especially because some of the other good advice about surviving Burning Man with your loved one includes this: (1) plan dates together to stay connected, and (2) leave time for yourself and your own interests too. That’s A LOT of planning and logistics for a place where planning doesn’t work that well! Still, it helped to be aware of the duality of these needs.
I’m also extremely grateful for everything Chris and I have learned during these travel adventures about how to communicate, share space, have fun, get time apart, get needs met, plan, anticipate, adjust, iterate, and (importantly) move on. It really helped us rock this event, despite some inevitable moments of frustration. I think that Burning Man would been a lot more difficult for us as a couple had we not had the practice of living in close quarters on the road for 14 months. It’s a strange event, at which people don’t always act like they normally would. It helps a lot to be flexible.
It also really helped that Chris attended last year, and we had some experience to build on as we prepared. For months and weeks leading up to the event, we’ve been talking, asking, planning, and dreaming. We came up with some good practical solutions, like cooking yummy meals in Durango and freezing them to bring to Burning Man. We put together costumes. We argued about how much water to bring. We talked about the things that made us nervous. It all worked out.
Make like a lighthouse and shine
Obviously, there’s no shortage of cool stuff to do at Burning Man. Each day is so chock full of potential and unique experience that it is difficult to mentally process or to sum up. One of my most memorable and favorite experiences was helping the Lighthouse crew with burn prep. I had no idea what to expect when I showed up onsite Saturday morning. I simply knew that I loved the creation of the Black Rock Lighthouse Service, and that the crew wanted assistance with getting ready for that night’s burn.
The Black Rock Lighthouse Service is the name of a project on playa. It was one of a few really large wood structures that were burned during the course of the week — first the pyramids, then the man, then the lighthouse, then the temple. The lighthouse was actually a cluster of whimsical lighthouses, outfitted with steep staircases, a spiral staircase, high balconies surrounding the lanterns, and rope bridges to connect each tower. (Pics and info about the artists here.)
Many of the smaller lighthouses in the cluster were leaning, by as much as 20 degrees. Everything was askew intentionally, including the balconies you walked on. There were art installations inside. At night, the lighthouses used mirrors to send light onto the playa. They also shot fire. (Yes, you heard that right. The cupola of each tower was equipped to make bursts of flame.)
Late Saturday night, after the man fell, the lighthouses were burned. I feel so lucky to have helped in a small way (with emphasis on small; the artists and team responsible for the lighthouse have been thinking about this for years, gathering materials since fall, and building since winter; they worked long hours in Oakland and on playa). I learned a lot. I was able to spend time up close with a project that really impressed me in both design and execution. I worked with the people who had conceived of and created this piece of art. I got my hands dirty in service of their goal. I feel lucky.
So what is burn prep, anyway? It includes a lot, I learned. I don’t know all the terminology yet (but oh my, I want to read and learn more) but it includes … Setting perimeter to secure the space. Removing everything that shouldn’t be burned (wiring, lights, fuel hoses, glass, materials that could blow in the wind while alight). Placing ignitors and accelerant, sorting and hauling scrap wood, placing tinder and kindling. Decisions had been made about how they wanted the structures to collapse, and everything was done with that goal in mind. Holes were cut as needed to ensure airflow. A rigger came in to wire. We used highway flares and boxes of wax and sawdust. There was a lot of activity.
There was also something gratifying about experiencing the wildness of Burning Man while busy at tasks. I like this way of experiencing the stimuli, compared to simply riding around looking for adventure. Throughout the day, I noticed the music changing as different art cars rode towards and away from the lighthouse. Most of the day, there was the thud thud thud of electronic music that’s so prevalent at Burning Man. It’s not my favorite, but I minded it less on the work site. At sunset, orange rays shone melodramatically while classical music filled the air at a terrifying volume. As darkness fell and a dust storm rolled in, tribal sounding drum music set a rhythmic beat. This (and many other factors) all set a festive mood unlike a worksite almost anywhere else.
A rainbow of colors, and not so green
Being an east coast gal, I don’t know many people from back home who attend Burning Man, and I haven’t heard a lot about it. Thus, my preconceptions of the event were mostly based on: (1) what Chris told me after he attended last year, and (2) what I read in the Survival Guide and on the Burning Man website. Add to this my predilection for appreciating back-to-the-land and minimalist lifestyles, and hippy events, and ended up with some expectations that were a little … off.
Once at Burning Man, I realized I had been naive. Yes, Burning Man might be the world’s largest leave no trace event. Yes, radical self reliance is another of the ten principles, and everyone is responsible for hauling out their own trash. Yes, the organization works closely with the BLM to ensure no detrimental impact to the playa on which we party. Yes, there is an alternative energy camp and there are a lot of old hippies. But.
We’re still bringing in tens of thousands of cars, trucks, and semis hauling all the infrastructure to make a temporary city. Each day a 42-foot long truck hauls in more ice. Pump trucks are in and out of the city, emptying porto-potties and RV black water tanks on a constant basis. Did I mention that it’s about a 100 miles to the first town of any size? That’s a lot of miles back and forth. It’s really quite a display of extravagance.
Plus, each camp hauls in all their own water, usually in disposable plastic gallon jugs that can be difficult to recycle. I didn’t recycle all the cardboard, plastic, and glass that I normally would, because of disorganization and/or laziness. Generators are running all over the city. And that’s just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. Thankfully, EL wire means that glow sticks, which end up in landfills, are mostly passe. Still, there’s a lot of disposable plastic at this event. A cacophony of stuff.
Even as I had fun, the waste gnawed at me, along with the realization that there’s a LOT of money poured into making the event happen. I expected the “plug and play” camps and famous attendees, but I didn’t expect how well-off the regular attendees would seem, how many comforts of home people would bring with them into the desert. I wasn’t prepared for the overall scale of the art pieces, or the scale of the city itself. It’s a LOT of material to haul in.
For most of the week, I felt like I was in a post-apocalyptic scenario in which only the wealthy and the artists had survived and were living off the scraps of a consumer society. Dressed up on the dusty playa, partying in style in an inhospitable environment, it was as if we were spending our last days on earth with as much spectacular glory as we could muster. As if the end was inevitable, and this was one last hurrah. Or at least that’s how it seemed in my head.
I’m not saying this is “bad,” per se. Indeed, much of the excess of Burning Man is not all that different from regular American life, although it does feel more extreme, more condensed, more in-your-face. Even as environmental matters weighed on me, I also had fun and appreciated the wonderful things people created and shared. The flip side of my complaints about the impact and excess of Burning Man is that I really liked it and I participated willingly. Black Rock City is beautiful. People make ingenious things. In addition to the money that pours in, people devote time and love. Often materials are recycled, reused, saved from the landfill. The coolest things don’t usually cost the most money.
Besides the lighthouse, my favorite piece is one that I’m told comes back every year: El Pulpo Mechanico. It is a big metal octopus mounted on a truck bed. It has eyes that move in and out, and tentacles that wave. Oh — and each tentacle shoots fire. Fire also comes out the top of the octopus’ head. And sometimes the truck plays music over loud speakers, and the tentacles wave and the fire bursts forth in sync with the beat, like the octopus is dancing. This piece was created by people who are smart, creative, and resourceful. If you look closely you realize a lot of the materials are discarded baking tins. If you look closer you also see the scale working model that was built from old soda cans and other scraps. If you stop to talk, you’ll hear that the creators are designing and building a new piece, which they’re really excited about.
It’s the excitement for creating and experiencing that would keep me coming back to Burning Man, despite some of my reservations about the event’s excess. This excitement can be found in places both large and small. We camped with a couple that Chris had met last year, some really interesting people from California. They built their own dome from scratch (you can catch a glimpse of it in the first photo, behind the Cricket), teach robotics classes to school kids back home, and are enthusiastic about all the neat people they meet at Burning Man. They had curious minds and were really fun to talk to at the end of a long day exploring. Their smiles helped me stay grounded, and I appreciate that. Their stories kept me inspired about life, and I appreciate that too.
In the end, there’s no way for me to perfectly reconcile these conflicting feelings. Burning Man is a large and varied place. (Every day I would ride down to the info station and check the population census, which peaked around 66,000 this year.) If I am lucky enough to return, I’d want to be more involved in a project (like the lighthouse) both before the event and on playa. I’d want to learn a lot more about making fire, safely. I would continue to think about the meaning of the event, the ways that Burning Man’s ten principles help create an immersive experience unlike almost anything else. I would continue to wrestle with the rest.
The air is changing here in Durango as Chris & I prepare to leave. There’s a cool breeze, a promise of fall. Last week I saw a few leaves turning orange. It’s beautiful. Just like when I fell in love with Durango last year. I am going to miss this place — and not just for the Colorado sunshine.
One of the best things about Durango, by my book, is David Holub, man about town. Of course I love it here; I’ve been introduced to Durango via Dave’s enthusiasm for people who are creative, brave, and dedicated to their passions.
There is, truly, a lot of awesomeness in Durango. It felt really good to fit into a community for a few months, to get to know people more than “I’m just passing through” tends to allow. I’ve been lucky to have Dave introduce me to writers, makers, artists, friends — always with a story about why each person is amazing. He is so generous about sharing his life.
Even more so, I’m so grateful for all the hours Dave and I have spent talking about life, love, and writing (and probably one or two other things too). It filled my well.
I like that Chris and Dave have fun, too.
And, oh, Durango! I think I got what I needed here.
I’ve grown in some good ways. The place, and the people allowed that to happen. The friendships helped. The landscape to walk in helped. Being inspired by others helped. Having consistent time and space to myself helped.
Even little things helped, like how friendly the grocery clerks are in Durango; I’m going to miss City Market. It’s impossible to walk around this town for very long without sharing a smile with a stranger. People’s eyes have light in them, more frequently than I see in most other places. (And, I’ve been to many other places recently.)
It’s been a good summer.
Durango is special.
Chris and I just purchased a new annual National Park pass at the Grand Canyon. We purchased last year’s pass at the Badlands in July 2015, and the pass just expired while Chris was at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico last month.
I had a lot of fun at the Grand Canyon (Chris already posted pics from his visit this spring). While there, I also reflected a lot on a year’s worth of lessons about how I enjoy experiencing our National Parks. It got me thinking back to a year ago, in the Badlands.
The parks usually require some time in cars, which makes me restless. At the Grand Canyon I used some of this car time to write a list of that I’ve learned as we hit between the Badlands and the Grand Canyon.
- Keep going back to look again, and from new angles
- Get outdoors early in the morning and at sunset
- Midday, find shade wherever possible
- Sit and look, walk and look
- Sketch or find another way to connect your hands to your eyes
- Find something(s) in the park to be curious about
- Get out into the landscape
- Know your limits
In Part Two, I think there’s more to say about the ways Chris and I have learned to do the parks together. While I’ve been contemplating this topic though, my mind has gone in a different direction.
Between the Badlands and the Grand Canyon, I’ve learned that my park experience unfolds best over a series of days as I find my favorite places and times to experience the landscape. I wrote in my notebook, “learned to give it time” — which is an attitude I am also considering in the rest of my life. Interesting lessons from the Grand Canyon.
I recently discovered a beautifully illustrated and narrated book called “Go Where You are Drawn.” It was a moment of good synchronicity.
Author Jeremy Collins is a climber and illustrator who, upon finding himself restless and searching, decided to head in the four cardinal directions – and up. I like discovering people who are called to keep exploring.
I also appreciate knowing that other people bleed, too, and keep going.
Jeremy used his travels, and his existing climbing skills, to create a journey of discovery, personal challenge, and growth. Climbing and fear again, it seems. An interesting theme.
And I love the way Jeremy draws and paints.
After google searching for more information on this interesting book, I discovered that Jeremy is also a filmmaker.
My first reaction is admiration and excitement. I like what Jeremy has done, it resonates with me, and I always appreciate knowing there are people out there adventuring in creative ways. If I’m being honest, this work also brings up some insecurity for me. Will I be able to share my lessons as effectively as this? How? Where?
Indeed, what are my lessons? Do I know yet? I can feel something crystalizing here in Durango and my sense of “what’s next” becoming more clear. At the same time I’m also still in the discovery process, still a traveler. I remind myself of this because my urge is to rush to the end, to find out what’s next simply because I am curious. I am still learning to slow down.
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and grass grows by itself.” This zen saying is something I repeated to myself a lot this winter in San Clemente, to help myself through moments in which I wanted my lessons of this “year” to come faster.
This summer I’ve learned by settling in, and next week we leave Durango to learn by being on the road again until October. Burning Man, and then points east, by way of — Canada? We don’t know yet. We’re just beginning to talk about routes again, get excited about those possibilities.
Go where you are drawn. It’s a good principle, and a book or video I recommend checking out.
I had never seen the Grand Canyon until recently. A surprise to many after learning I grew up in Colorado, which is considerably closer to the canyon than Massachusetts. This wonder of the world was something I didn’t want to miss during our travels. It would be like going to Egypt and not seeing the pyramids. This was a must see for me. But why? Why would 6 million people travel from all over the world to view this giant chasm? But before that question can be answered, I feel we need to step back and ask why do we even have the National Park Service?
But what is the National Park Service? Surprisingly, it is much more extensive than I thought. The National Park Service includes: International Historic Sites, National Historic Sites, National Historical Parks, National Military Parks, National Battlefield Parks, National Battlefields, National Battlefield Sites, National Memorials, National Monuments, National Parks, National Parkways, National Preserves, National Reserves, National Recreation Areas, National Scenic Trails, National Lakeshores, National Seashores, National Rivers, and National Wild and Scenic Rivers!
What determines a National Battlefield from a Battlefield Park or Site, or even a Historic Site, or Historical Park is beyond me. I’m sure our government has clear and defined qualifications, regulations, speculations and determinations on how these decisions are made.
As complex as the Park Service seems, its mission statement is simple: “The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations”.
Yet perhaps this statement is too simple, and the word “unimpaired” has different meanings to different people. In 1913, congress approved the construction of the O’Shaughnessy Dam, which would provide San Francisco the majority of its fresh water. Once completed in 1923, it flooded the entire Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. Often compared to Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy Valley was similar in its beauty and historical significance. For over 6,000 years, people had lived and admired the valley’s stunning granite cliffs and the waterfalls that cascaded down them. And even though this valley fell within the Yosemite National Park boundaries, the dam was approved and the landscape forever changed.
Afterwards, many thought what is the purpose of setting aside and preserving federal land if it can only then be developed latter on. So in 1964 the Wilderness Act was born. This is the highest level of conservation our country has and its definition is almost poetic:
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
The Act continues to read: An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.
I find clause 2 especially meaningful and forward thinking. It provides people the opportunity to temporarily escape our developed world. Some may ask, well don’t the Parks provide that? Yes and no. There are 106 million acres of Wilderness, 53 percent of that resides within the National Park System. But not all National Park land is Wilderness. Take the Grand Canyon as an example, a Park loaded with accommodations like a bus system, campgrounds, lodges, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, gift-shops, galleries, and laundry mats. It’s a small city of traveling citizens. Most of its visitors will never come close to a primitive and unconfined type of recreation. For those who have had the opportunity to backpack or float into Wilderness, you’ll know what I mean. It has that primitive solitude with nature that’s hard to get anywhere else. You escape the cars, ATV’s, motorcycles, mountain bikes and motorboats. Your distance from society buffers you from seeing houses and buildings. You don’t hear the chainsaws or sounds of road construction, just the jets flying overhead. You know you can walk for days or even weeks and see nothing manmade but the trail you travel (if that). It’s a timeless feeling that resonates and becomes even more important as time passes. As our world population increases, development furthers and the Web expands, finding that isolation will become even more crucial.
Now I want to jump back to another and perhaps even more exciting phrase within the National Parks Service mission statement, which is to provide inspiration of this and future generations. That right there might sum it all up. It might answer my original question as to why people visit the Parks – for inspiration. Sure they inspire the artists, the writers and poets, the musicians and the dancers; but they inspire more than that. They can arouse any visitor to pause and contemplate what lies before them- a place of unique beauty. People travel from all over the world to be moved, stirred and aroused by these natural wonders. As they stand there, one can only hope, if for a brief moment, they forget their place in society and realize their place in the world.
As 6 million people gaze across the vast and expansive canyons we call Grand, they are humbled. What lies before them is nearly two billion years of Earth’s geological history. Perhaps here, more than any other place, one can try to contemplate time. You can stand at the edge and peer down into its very depths. At 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and over a mile deep, the Grand Canyon is larger than Delaware. It is like an inverted mountain range. To hike down to the Colorado River is like summiting a 14er in reverse. As strong as our natural instinct is to climb to the highest peak, it is just as strong to want to descend to the bottom of the canyon. Doing so you traverse through 6 million years of erosion. The further down you go, the more centered you become, until you’re standing at the rivers edge, in the present. You are grounded by the flow of water like the seconds of a clock, it is the here and the now. You are no longer overwhelmed by the scale because you can no longer see the rim. The course of time switches from vertical to horizontal and sinks in the muddy water. Perhaps this is why so many seek the Grand Canyon. It is truly a natural wonder.
Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce seem to be the big hitters in this region. It’s a wagon train of RV’s between these three parks and the cricket hopped right along with them. Now that school’s out, I’ve noticed a huge increase in college kids and families and less snow birds (retired folk). The latter have better sense than I to avoid these popular parks which are completely mobbed now. The Grand Canyon gets over 6 million visitors a year, Zion 3 million, and Bryce 1 million. Each is like a city with the Grand Canyon (south rim) being New York, a huge international city with lots of public transportation. Zion is a bit smaller, like Boston, it too has its global visitors and developed transportation. Finally there’s the smaller Bryce, more like Denver, lots of people and it’s own bus system.
Because of their popularity, camping inside the parks seemed impossible but luckily I could camp just outside parks for free on either BLM or in National Forest. I had never camped in a campground in my life before moving to the East coast. To me camping was finding a nice quiet spot (for free) in the woods were no one else was around. Just you and the outdoors. Not some overcrowded campground where you pay $15-40 for a picnic table, fire pit, toilet and 500 sq ft you get to call yours for the night. But just like the buses, I realize these campgrounds are necessary to dampen the impact that these millions of visitors can have on the environment. The buses were actually kind of nice, making me feel I was going to work everyday. I’d ride the bus to my location first thing in the morning, do my hikes, and then ride it home at the end of the day with all the other commuters.
Bryce Canyon is one of those driving parks, as Alexis would say. Where you drive from one scenic view to the next, snap some shots and move on. Like the Grand Canyon, very few people actually seem to hike down into the amazing voodoos. I ran into less than a dozen tourists on a Sunday afternoon while down there.
Just by chance, I arrived at Bryce the last day of their 16 annual astronomy festival. Bryce is suppose to be one of the darkest places in the United States. The other “darkest places” we visited – Badlands, Death Valley, and Big Bend were all around a full moon, which was nice, but made for poor stargazing. Not that I’m big into stars, I’m lucky to find the little dipper. But I do love to see a sky loaded with twinkly lights.
So at 10:30 pm I’m standing in line for a bus that transports hundreds of people to a dark location outside of the park. This was a whole new crowd of people for me, or should I say dark figures, because I never really fully saw anyone. I just listened to them talk about galaxies, constellations, and use terms like star A467. There were volunteers with green lasers that shot up way into the sky, pointing out any consolation people questioned about. Even then, I failed to see Hercules, Scorpio or Cancer. I just saw stars, lots of them.
Imagination failing me, I decided to get a closer look. There were about a dozen volunteers who brought their high powered telescopes, which were focused on different objects. I could wait in line to see Saturn and its rings, Jupiter and its two bands and three moons and of course the red planet. These telescopes were all bigger than anything I’ve even seen. And then there were a few BIG telescopes. I mean, transported by horse trailer BIG. These of course had the longest lines but I felt I may never view the stars like this again so I waited and waited for my opportunity to glance through one of these. And when I did, I got to see the Sombrero Galaxy 65 million light years away. I was looking at light emitted at a time the dinosaurs roamed our planet. I thought the Grand Canyon seemed old.
When we set off for a first night’s stop in New York State, waving to my parents in the driveway at the farm, we were towing the Cricket with the Subaru.
We went 6,000 miles in that vehicle before trading it with the Nelsons for the Ridgeline in which we’ve gone 18,886 more to date. That’s a grand total of almost 25,000 miles. Yow! We’ll hit that marker on the next (short) Cricket adventure, which we set out on tomorrow.
You can see our full route from the year, updated with Chris’ southwestern adventures in orange, below and interactively here.
Last night we toasted our anniversary with wine that we purchased while towing the Cricket through the Alexander Valley (above Napa, and much prettier we thought).
Soon, we’ll post a FAQ page. We have been getting more and more questions from people thinking about purchasing a Cricket, and we’re compiling our answers for this site. We don’t write as much about the Cricket itself as we do our adventures and lessons, but there is a lot to say. Now that we have a year under our belts, we’ve really put this camper through some good tests!
At Esalen’s Summer Solstice Sadhana I took a workshop on body, breath, and meditation with Jody Greene — and she blew me away with the depth, vulnerability, and thoughtfulness of her teaching.
Jody has a really dry sense of humor, and a bluntness about the way she speaks. She is SO funny, I laughed about 35 times in our morning together, about things that matter like learning how to be sweet to oneself. (This article is something of an exaggerated version of Jody’s directness of thought that I experienced.)
I love the way Jody teaches both what she has personally learned works for her, and that it is important to find what works for you. And that what works will change. I love that she takes a mind-body approach to how she works on well-being.
My time with Jody was limited. Usually she was leading meditation at 6:15 a.m. while I was writing and soaking in the hot springs, and later she was hands-on-assisting in one of our classes. I attended the workshop led by her on the second-to-last day of the festival. Had I known sooner how much her style of teaching connects with me, I might even have disrupted my morning pages routine for some more time with her meditating just after dawn.
I would definitely seek out Jody’s workshops again. If you are a human being, are into self-knowledge, struggle with pushing yourself too hard, have injuries that need to be accommodated, or just want to learn more about yoga or mediation, I encourage you to do the same. I can’t say so enough.