I left for my next Great Unknown a little over a week ago, last Thursday to be exact. It already feels like years ago. Boxes and backpacks and loose socks flew around my car while I flew down several interstates and highways towards a future I didn’t know how to expect. My first stop was in Rapid City, South Dakota. I passed through the Badlands on the way there and was, as always, struck by how an earthly monument that soft could have lasted all these years. It’s tan and orange humps rose up out of the prairie grass, casting shadows in the sun and dust clouds when stepped on. I stayed with a family friend who hospitality has never once failed me and I decided that if I ever move back home, I’ll choose West over East.
The next day, after becoming overly concerned about dangerous weather, I left at 7AM and passed through Nebraska, a land that appeared to me like something from a Celtic dream. Rolling hills, unrelenting fog, and subtle rain amplified the greenery of those pastures and it took no time for me to hit “play” next to Celtic Woman on Spotify. I stopped in Denver, CO for the next few days. That Friday, I visited the ACMNP office and was given a bit of direction on where to go for good atmosphere and mediocre coffee and then followed those directions to a place whose name I have already forgotten. It was a small house remade into a coffee shop. I couldn’t connect to the WiFi and was thus forced to finish writing a piece I started a month ago, the last time I was in Denver. A friend from OK drove up to see me and the person I was staying with. Even though the time was short, it was a good reminder of things that are to come and it helped me breathe a little easier when I think three months in advance.
I drove though a snowstorm in the Rockies that Sunday and I have never gripped 10 and 2 so hard in my life. My steering wheel still has not forgiven me. I thought about the men in my life who have driven me up and down roads like that before and I immediately appreciated the things they have sacrificed for me so much more (Dad, I’m talking about you). I eventually made it through and was blessed by a beautiful double rainbow of Las Mesas in Colorado. I think that was The Earth’s way of telling me that I can be present in one place without abandoning another.
I camped in the dead night of Utah with odd high school memories haunting me, and the pepper spray right by my pillow. When I woke up that morning and stepped outside of my tent, all I could do was smile. There I was, alone, finally experiencing The Desert. I drove the ten minutes to the entrance of Arches National Park and entered the loop with three liters of water, two cliff bars, no agenda, and a subtle feeling of contentment. I spent all day running around a landscape I have never before seen. Huge red stone towers rose up out of the flat earth all around me. It was as if giant beasts had been laid to rest right there and, in their resistance, had reached their claws out of their graves and left horizontal rake marks down the sides of their tombstones. The stone there crumbled easily if you weren’t careful. I took a primitive path and climbed as much as I could, especially the parts where nobody else was. The arches rose like huge bridges above me, bridgesover tunnels of open sky. You could look through them and see for miles. Several older tourists made comments like “where’s your boyfriend, sweetie? You shouldn’t be traveling all alone,” and “Don’t climb that: you’ll get hurt! You better wait for your dad”. I held my tongue but raged internally that one reason it was dangerous for me to travel alone was because people like them permit a system to persist where Female is equivalent to Weak and adventure is reserved for those who don’t have responsibilities like a husband, a house, and kids. I know they meant well, but meaning well isn’t enough anymore.
I continued on the loop to the Delicate Arch trail and hiked up a blazing hot, open desert rock slab. When I got to the top I was underwhelmed by the Arch but was overwhelmed by how far I could see and how beautifully desolate everything looked. I was sitting on top of short rock tower when a Saudi Arabian man about my age approached me and said “Wow! You are such brave girl, the bravest in my life, my friend with me is a scaredy boy and will not climb anything with me. Let us go take pictures! I will take the best picture for you.” I followed him around the area and hopped up on anything he wanted a picture from and he would always remark “Wow you are such brave girl.” It was a nice confidence boost. After I was done there, I went into the backcountry in order to scope out a secluded place to take a back tattoo photo. Taking one’s clothes off in any government owned area is always a risky idea. Eventually I worked my self-timer magic and took off at a run back down. When I got to the bottom of the trail some ladies asked me “Why are you running?”
“I’m already a quarter of the way through my life and if I don’t run everywhere, I will never have enough time to see and do and be everything that I want to see and do and be,” I wanted to say.
“It’s faster,” I said.
Driving out of Arches was almost painful, and I promised that graveyard I would return. I bought a bagel and a beer on the way back to my campsite. I hiked to a ‘watering hole’ to cool down and did some free bouldering over the deeper end. That night, I drank my beer and tried to write a song before laying down to rest in my tent for a very, VERY windy night.
I crossed Utah into Arizona and was introduced to even more deserty desert than what surrounded Moab. I saw empty cactus and shrubbery filled red land for miles. The occasional house made me think of No Country For Old Men and I wondered what kind of hardship it takes for someone to choose to remain in that desolation forever. I suppose the solitude would be kind of nice. The second I saw the sign for “Grand Canyon South Rim” my heart leaned up into sternum and I clenched my jaw for a while. I felt him coming half an hour before I saw him. It was as if the gravity of this place was pulling me in and in and in and in. I drove through the Kaibab National Forest and I got checked in at my place of employment and I moved into my room and I met up with some of my friends and we got lunch and I told them I hadn’t yet seen the Canyon and they said “follow us” and I did and then suddenly, there it was.
I have a theory about how the Canyon was made. Way back when, before iPhones and cars and electricity and even the wheel existed, the Canyon was not as much The Grand Canyon as it was just a canyon. Don’t get me wrong, it was still striking, just not at the scale it is now. Those who would see it would stand at the edge for the very first time and gasp and find that the view, though subtle, would took their breath away. The canyon, in all it’s stillness and color, would reach up behind every new unsuspecting witness and pluck their breath right from out of their lungs, and use it to fill himself. Over the years, many people that came, when they first saw him, would find it hard to breathe, would find that the functioning of their eyes had taken over every other aspect of their body. The Canyon used that air, all those millions of gasps, to fill himself up deeper and deeper, wider and wider, until he changed from a canyon to The Canyon to The Grand Canyon. All that space you see between the side you stand on and the side 21 miles away is made up of the wonder and awe and respect of generations of humans realizing that they are nothing but a piece of dust, floating on the winds of the earth’s orbit.
When I stood at that edge for the very first time, I found that the view took my breath away. It still does, even as I sit here typing this. Several of my other team members said that they cried when they saw him, but I just stood there and stopped breathing, willing that giant in front of me to never let my lungs inflate again.
I’ve been running in and out of him for the past few days, taking my time to get to know the curvature of his skin and the dryness of his innards. The forests on his edges have wooed me and the elk that wander them make me happy to think that after all these years of abuse, The Earth will still win. I hope there are others out there rooting for her.
After my first real day of work today I am realizing that I don’t have as much time to fall in love with this giant as I thought. I came here to take my time and to write down all the noise inside of my head and to wander down the trail heads of his heart and (hopefully) hear him say that the things I create are good, that my presence is good, but I think I’ll have to speed up my plan. Needing money to live puts a bit of a damper on freedom. Maybe someday it won’t. I’ll take what I can get for now, and that’s a whole lot more than most people. If you haven’t been outside yet today (walking to your car doesn’t count), go outside and close your eyes and forget about mankind. Breathe in the sunshine or the rainclouds or the night sky and know that you deserve wholeness just as much as this earth does. She’s waiting to help you find it, She’s hoping you’ll help her find it too.