Enough

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“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” [Zen Shin]

You know that story—the one you tell yourself about how you’re not enough? Not fit enough to go to the gym, not pretty enough to wear makeup, not smart enough to take that class, not brave enough to speak your truth, not worthy enough to love? That one?

It’s a bad story. By which I mean poorly written. It’s flat-out boring, and that’s a problem. I’m bored with this narrative I have of myself. Yeah, it can keep me safe, but it also keeps me in. It holds me back.

A lot of times, there’s no way of knowing whether I am enough if I don’t try the thing more than once. Or, more likely, being enough just doesn’t have much to do with it. And pretending like it’s all that matters is lazy—a poorly written, boring story. It’s a stereotype—girl gets a makeover and finds out she’s pretty after all, smarty-pants guy gets the professional recognition he deserves. Neither of these are about the journey of acquiring enough-ness; they don’t show us the real grit and failure of an honest story.

Because I’m mostly not enough. I could be better—a better teacher, a better writer, a better listener, a better friend, a better daughter, a better student, a better climber…. But all those take work; they’re risky and difficult. And they’re also not boring. If “enough” were really the goal, how boring it’d be once we got there!

So instead of denying that story, instead of telling it, “No, you’re wrong—I am enough,” next time it stops in for a visit, I’ll be honest: “You bore me. I’ve heard enough of you, and this life I’m getting to live is too interesting for me to stop and listen to another boring story.”

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What I’ve Learned about Forgiveness

In light of the #metoo movement, I’ve come across some interesting discussions about the role of forgiveness–whether it’s an outdated concept, what its utility even is, who gets to give and receive it.

I’ve been on this long road of forgiveness for a few years myself, and I’ve done some helpful reading on the topic, too. Below are a few things I’ve learned about forgiving others:

  1. Forgiving isn’t just for people who go to church. Or temple, or mosque, or people who sit regularly on their meditation cushions. Certainly these traditions help us witness, contextualize, and understand forgiveness in action, but they’re not prerequisites to meaning or purpose in our lives–much less forgiveness. What is a prerequisite to forgiveness, I think, is the desire to heal. To want to move on, lighten the load. Hurt and betrayal weigh us down, and the kind of fear that (naturally) results from experiencing them often keeps us from trying what we want to try, and accomplishing what we’re aiming to accomplish.
  2. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that anyone gets to forgo the consequences of their actions. You can look to forgive a coworker for harassing you while you pursue the repercussions available to you at your workplace. You can forgive a thief and still file a police report. These aren’t mutually exclusive actions. You can forgive while pursuing justice and, often, we really should do both. An essential part of forgiveness is coming to terms with what happened and what needs to happen going forward. So much of forgiveness has to do with working against our own denial. And yes, it’s uncomfortable to dwell in a place where we’re both hurt and open to the possibility of letting go of that hurt. This is why it’s helpful to consider how…
  3. Forgiveness is a journey. Like almost anything worth doing in this life, forgiveness isn’t a split-second decision resulting in immediate transformation. As Dear Sugar says in this wonderful letter, “You know how alcoholics who go to AA are always using that phrase one day at a time? They say that because to say I will never drink again is just too f***ing much. It’s big and hard and bound to fail.” Committing to a once-and-for-all forgiveness (a “just let it go” moment) is too big and hard, and it’s most often bound to fail. The first step, as Dear Sugar suggests, is acceptance: just recognizing what happened, and maybe how. Being able to say, even silently to yourself, “I was harassed,” or “He humiliated me,” exemplifies this step. Sometimes this process of acceptance, this inquiry into what happened, opens up the reality that there is more than one person to forgive. For example, I know that I’ve reacted in ways I’ve regretted to people who’ve hurt me; so in accepting what all happened, I’ve realized that I needed to forgive myself, too. For me, the act of forgiving is ongoing, a practice. It doesn’t do any good to pretend you’re not angry, or not hurting–there’s acceptance again. So, once you’ve accepted what’s already present, how can you best process it in a way that moves toward forgiveness?
  4. Nobody deserves forgiveness. Nobody is more deserving of forgiveness than anybody else. Someone doesn’t (and can’t!) earn your forgiveness by apologizing to you, “making it up” to you in some way, or by doing something that was no big deal in the first place. (Side note: who else needs to practice responding to “I’m sorry” with “Thank you” instead of “Oh, it’s okay”???) Similarly, you can forgive someone whether or not they apologize to you. You don’t even have to communicate with the perpetrator to forgive them, especially if reaching out to them is going to cause more pain for either of you. Forgiveness doesn’t have to be something you say to the person who hurt you at all, because…
  5. Forgiveness is about showing yourself mercy. Carrying the burden of knowing someone took advantage of you, hurt you, betrayed you–in any way and for any reason–is painful. This kind of pain drains your energy, takes away the joy and color from so many other parts of our lives. And it’s hard enough to be hurt in the first place! One of my favorite yoga teachers Kathryn Budig once said in an Instagram post, “Doubt will try to wiggle its way in, but its only fuel is your permission. Starve it with your faith.” I think this can also be true, to an extent, when it comes to trauma. Of course we have no control over what other people say or do to us, how they decide to treat us. But we do have control over our reactions–what we let steep into our consciousness and why, what we continue to mull over. We can “starve” these painful moments and toxic memories by revoking our permission to let them stick around and continue to hurt us, by forgiving.
  6. You don’t get to forgive someone for harming someone else. I think this is especially important in light of #metoo. You can only forgive someone for the harm they did to you. Yes, it’s terrible and difficult when it’s revealed that yet another public figure, maybe one you admired, has done something awful to a woman or girl–or many women and girls. But what they did to those people is not the same betrayal that you’ve experienced. And notice that I’m not saying your pain in that situation is invalid–it certainly is valid–but it’s a fundamentally different kind of pain. Bill Cosby, for example, violated our trust. But the trust he allegedly violated for so many women was personal, physical, and deliberate–related to our pain too, but very different in scope from our own. We don’t get to claim others’ traumas, others’ pain; and in that same vein, we can only forgive Cosby for the harm he’s done to us, not others.

Do these ring true to you? What have you learned about forgiveness? Please share in the comments, if you wish!

Love to all.

If You Love It, Study It

You’ve probably heard someone say this kind of thing before: “Now that you know how it works, doesn’t that take all the fun out of it?”

Plenty of people endeavor to study subjects they feel inexorably drawn to—and certainly not to rid them of their fun or magic. It’s like explaining the joke; as if studying something removes, somehow, its inherent joy. Like we can’t laugh once we’ve learned.

I was listening to a podcast recently where a NASA astronomer was discussing past conversations she had with non-astronomers about stargazing for fun. She said several people assumed stargazing would no longer be enjoyable for her now that she knows so much about the stars she sees. But she said the opposite was true—stargazing now feels even more magical with her added knowledge.

Milky Way over Castle Geyser

Photo by Yellowstone National Park

 

This misconception—that deep study anesthetizes joy in any experience—fundamentally doubts abundance, doubts the infinite nature of knowledge revealed through study.  We’ve learned much about the stars, yes, but certainly not all. Not even close. The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know, and thus the more we want to learn. Learning and study are what get us to the threshold of a hallway with many doors. Without it, we wouldn’t even be aware of the doors, much less how long the hallway is. Without it, everything looks like a dead end. The inherent joy in learning, for me, is its continual abundance. I’m realizing that mastery is a myth, and a dull one at that.

So I have faith in the infinite abundance of our world, and the slow unfurling of knowledge. And that is plenty magic for me.

New Poem: “American Bison”

Bison rut, Lamar Valley

Photo by Yellowstone National Park

Hello, everyone! Long time no see. It’s been a little crazy here starting a new semester and a new job, but I promise I’ve been up to things. The lovely online poetry mag Muse /A Journal just came out with their gorgeous fifth issue, and my poem “American Bison” (hmmm, wonder what it could be about?) is up alongside some other stunning work.

Check out my new poem here!

Love to all.

New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, Land of Circles

New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, Land of Circles

After two and a half weeks in the high-altitude New Mexico desert sun, I confess my summer freckles have returned. I like to think of them as my skin’s seasonal blossoming. They’re little circular perennials, roots dug deep and hibernating all winter long, waiting for a warm week to reappear.

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Juniper in front of Abiquiú Lake

I stayed in Abiquiú, New Mexico, a rural town outside Santa Fe, in June to work as an instructional counselor for a creative writing class for gifted and talented high school students. Ghost Ranch is now a retreat center, made famous by the renowned artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who stayed there for many summers and eventually lived there full-time.

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Instructor and friend Natalie atop the overlook at Chimney Rock

This was my first time to New Mexico even though its entire northern border is most of Colorado’s southern border. The high desert there was overrun with crooked trees and low brush—juniper, sage, chamisa.

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Trail to Chimney Rock on Ghost Ranch, Cerro Pederal in the distance

At the welcome center for Bandelier National Monument I flipped through samples of dried and pressed plants, matching them to what I’d seen on our hike around the cave dwellings, their ruins. These amazing light brown sandstone cliffs full of holes and pockmarks, made hollow by centuries of erosion.

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Cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument

Circular structures ringed with stacked stones were built and called kivas by the Pueblo Native Americans who lived there. These buildings were used in rituals, especially coming-of-age ceremonies for young men wherein the structure functioned like a sweat lodge.

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More cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument is a dormant volcano featuring an enormous caldera, basically the collapsed crater-like center of a volcano since overgrown with grasses, shrubs, and thirsty western high-altitude trees like cottonwoods and aspen.

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Bandelier plant life

As our class stopped beneath some of the less accessible cliff dwellings (reached via a series of ladders) for lunch, we wrote in response to a prompt about rituals, and it occurred to me that the caldera could be seen as a sort of first kiva—the stone circle first laid by some ancient, powerful hand. This is what it looks like when the land forms circles—a collapse, an eruption, layers of volcanic ash pressed into earth, then sandstone.

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Blooming Cholla cactus at Bandelier National Monument

The town of Taos contains the Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the longest continuously inhabited villages in North America. Here the Pueblo people built their multi-story homes out of adobe brick, which consists of clay, hay, and water.

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A typical adobe home at the Taos Pueblo site

Both the mortar and the plaster which covers the bricks are made of mud. Cedar logs were laid across each structure to help form and support their ceilings. These ceiling also functioned as the floor of the story atop it, accessed by wooden ladders.

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Red chiles as decoration at Taos Pueblo

Because of the materials of these structures, it is impossible to outfit them with modern plumbing and electricity. Our tour guide told me only five families remain as full-time residents here, though many more keep their ancestral homes while they live primarily in the town of Taos, or elsewhere on the reservation.

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A window at the Catholic church in Taos

While walking around Taos Pueblo, I saw a man setting up a table with a display of turquoise jewelry underneath a hay canopy in front of an adobe home. We chatted, and he invited me into the home he said had been the birthplace of his great-grandfather, and inhabited by his family many, many generations before that.

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The Rio Pueblo de Taos in the foreground, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background

It was a simple, surprisingly cool single room with a small fireplace in one corner. He explained to me the technique by which the Pueblo people made the chimney. They took a cedar trunk and covered it with adobe plaster. Once dried, they then set the wood on fire, which would leave them with a hollow, cylindrical adobe structure. A circle of sky, open to sky.

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One of many art galleries in Taos Pueblo

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A close-up of the bison leather dreamcatcher

One night on a silent walk to Matrimonial Mesa at Ghost Ranch, I pointed out to the students the hoofprints of a deer in the mud. In a place that receives fewer than eight inches of rain a year, it had rained that afternoon. One student had spotted a garden snake who’d been coaxed out of the shadows by the cool rain. And the small, halved circles of the imprints of hooves wandering from the dirt road to the arroyo’s cottonwoods, weaving between chamisa and juniper.

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Desert daisies and pink sunsets on Ghost Ranch

On the mesa that night we watched the scattered, sputtering circles of stars come into being. We lay there quietly, listening to the high-pitched echoes of chirping bats as they drew their own looped circles in the air above. Kivas, nightly natural rituals. Circles in space and time. Each time we return to repeat the ritual, each time we circle back, something is different. We hold constant what we can, but we treasure everything.

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Looking west from Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

[from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows]

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Sunset over Chimney Rock on Ghost Ranch

Georgia O’Keeffe painted Cerro Pedernal (Flint Mountain) over forty times. The story goes that she took any paintings with which she wasn’t satisfied, drove down the mesa, and burned their canvases right there in the desert. About Cerro Pedernal O’Keeffe said, “God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” She returned and returned. She ritualized the process.

Locals heard of her affinity for bones and brought them to her, bleached white by desert sun and preserved by desert air. She painted a series centered on a cow’s pelvis. There are circles here, too—the spaces for each leg, the ball of each femur joint, the socket space. She painted it so close up, sometimes, that you can’t tell what the curves are a part of at all, what the lighting reveals.

Circles form from gravity, from wear and falling and moving and the difficulty of moving. Everything softens over time, forgets its corners, collapses. The desert is a land of circles, the simplicity of curves, the complexity of a single eye.

A National Wound

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Art by Josh Williams, from https://heartbreakamerica.com.

Something I’ve been considering lately—and I know I’m not alone in this—is our current political moment in America. Not only is our president unpopular and repulsively incapable of coherence, but many recent events are arguably assembling into an assault on empathy and compassion. This nonstop rhetoric of division. Trump backed the US out of the Paris climate agreement, has gotten away with bragging about sexually assaulting women, throws together a budget proposal that would be devastating for the poor, consistently calls upon stereotypes to depict minorities, and bullies some foreign leaders while lauding praise on other foreign leaders who are, themselves, bullies. In this state, what good are words? What good is art, or beauty, or attempting to foster compassion?

I want to share with you, dear reader—especially those of you who are particularly threatened by this administration—the young, the poor, LGBTQIA individuals, women and girls, minorities, Muslims, Hispanics, Jews, artists, healthcare workers, activists, scientists, animal lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, parents and teachers with a stake in the future. I’d like to share some quotes that both bring me solace and challenge me to act. Since writing is one of the languages I speak, this is my offering to you.

It has been helpful to me to reconstruct my understanding of pain and suffering as a signal of the work that needs to be done, a calling. Mother Theresa once said, “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” Agitation and suffering are the impetuses of great change.

I’ve also been thinking about suffering as physical—we say that our hearts break for the parents of trans children murdered, for the addicts unable to afford treatment, for the victims of police brutality, for the children growing up poor, for the coastal homeowners facing rising sea levels and more volatile hurricane seasons, the dying polar bears, the thirsty in Flint, the rape victims whose rape kits languish untested. When Trump won the election, students walked around Colorado State University’s campus crying, holding each other. Our understanding of pain begins as physical, as wound, as foreshadowing of death.

Rumi: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

In Krista Tippett’s 2014 interview with writer and philosopher Dr. Joanna Macy for her radio show and podcast On Being, Dr. Macy talks about heartbreak: “World is lover, world is self and that it’s OK for our hearts to be broken over the world. What else is the heart for?” In the unedited version of this interview, Dr. Macy also says that if our hearts could physically break open, that’s where we could fit the whole world. Wounding, breaking in the body is a making space for something new; vulnerability as a possibility for growth.

In Tippett’s 2016 interview with poet and memoirist Mary Karr, Karr says, “as deep as a wound is, that’s how deep the healing can be.”

We are a relatively new nation, but our American experiment with multiculturalism and diversity is even newer. We are in pursuit of deep, wide, expansive healing. Healing as deep as slavery and segregation. Healing as deep as institutionalized objectification of women. As deep and long as churches and teachers and parents who’ve hurt us. The potential for healing is great, and vast.

One final quote I’d like to leave for you comes from Terry Tempest Williams’s marvelous and most recent book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks. In it she carries on a correspondence with activist Tim DeChristopher, who served prison time for protesting a 2008 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction of oil and gas extraction leases by outbidding on land he would not (and could not) pay for. In discussing climate change with Williams, DeChristopher said, “We must let ourselves be shattered by the hopelessness of the crisis . . . When we abandon the hope that things will work out, the hope that we will be able to live the easy and comfortable life which we are promised, the hope that someone else will solve this problem, then we are free to act . . . The opposite of hope is empowerment” (271).

Suffering is a call to action. What change will your hopelessness cause you to work toward? Work from our places of wounding, and vulnerability. This is where fierceness comes from, fierce compassion. And we can all agree, I think, that our nation could stand to see more compassion in every place, every school, every home, every broken heart.

Desert Abundance

Over Thanksgiving break, Matt and I visited Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks in Utah as well as Antelope Canyon on the Navajo Reservation outside Page, Arizona, and Horseshoe Bend (of the Colorado River) there too. I’ve never been any place that dry before, that red.

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Puddles at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, Arizona

North Carolina clay is notoriously red and dense, but that’s all disguised by layers of roots, worms, sloughed needles and leaves, thickets of thorn and vine.

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Sagebrush in Zion National Park

The abundance of the desert is different. Desert comes from French, then Latin—desertus for “left waste.” In English, the word desert is also a verb—to abandon, to leave a place, causing it to appear empty; to fail someone, especially at a crucial moment when most needed. A desert landscape is one with high stakes, where the smallest actions are amplified by emptiness. A horizon unscuffed by silhouettes of trees, left yawning open to dawn and dark alike. It is like the prairie in this way, “big sky country” —weather approaches like an oncoming train, openly. Its plans laid bare as plains. This is like what happens when someone deserts us, isn’t it? Their plans, their feelings and intentions are all laid bare, made plain.

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Mule deer at Watchman Campground, Zion National Park

Only the wily can effectively hide in the desert—the gray fox we saw skim the road at Watchman Campground inside Zion National Park, the chipmunk who approached us atop Angels Landing, the rabbit among the sagebrush near Moab. Mule deer were unabashed in their hunger, making meager meals from fallen cottonwood leaves gone to almost dust in their mouths.

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The roads in Zion are paved with maroon asphalt, presumably to blend into the landscape, which reddens fiery at dawn, then fades to rust at dusk.

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Canyons are the hiding places of the west, the shadowy forests and warren bungalows of the desert. Rivers don’t always run year-round, leaving behind dry “washes,” but when they return each spring, new snowmelt or runoff sand sediment, we allow them to do so under the same name as before. In that way, the name seems to mark the bed—a ditch, a crease in the fabric of the landscape—rather than the water.

Folksongs sing of the “rolling” Shenandoah, the “falling waters” of the Mississippi (the National Park Service has a whole webpage dedicated to “Songs of the Mississippi River”). The silence of a wash, a dried bed, doesn’t lend itself to rhythm, to song. What does it lend itself to?

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Cerberus Gendarme area of Zion National Park

When songs insist on the desert, I feel they then concern themselves with liminality—waiting to get to one place, leaving another. The desert isn’t a place in which we can stay for long. This makes it sparkle with an ancient mystery, the mystery of existing in a timeline so outside of our own.

The river that formed Zion National Park’s main canyon is the Virgin River. I’m still working on a way to formulate the following fact into a joke: the Virgin River is what cut through layers of sediment to form the cliffs now known as the Court of the Patriarchs. These are all Mormon-assigned names. The Paiute people originally called this area Mukuntuweap, purportedly meaning “straight up land.”

We spent our day in Zion climbing at the Cerberus Gendarme area, which is named after the multi-headed dog monster from Greek mythology, and then hiking the famous Angels Landing trail. Each time we went into the park we took the shuttle, which is the only way to park in Zion unless you’re willing to pay for a permit in addition to the entrance fee.

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Matt flaking out the rope before climbing in Zion National Park

The climbing was a fun, varied introduction to the splitter crack sandstone we’d be visiting in Indian Creek south of Moab later in our trip.

Angels Landing isn’t a particularly long hike (2.4 miles one way), but it gains quite a bit of altitude (1,488 feet) over its relatively short distance, resulting in a couple stone staircases and many cement switchbacks.

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Matt on a flatter section of the Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

The last half mile or so is very exposed, meaning an accidental slip could result in a deadly fall.

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Matt approaching the steep, exposed section toward the top of Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Every so often there are metal posts bolted to the rock with chains strung between them for you to grab as you walk.

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Matt clinging to the chains for dear life! (Angels Landing Trail, Zion National Park)

The view from Angels Landing is spectacular, allowing you to see down each end of the canyon the Virgin River has carved over many thousands of years.

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We made it! The view from Angels Landing, Zion National Park

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Another view from Angels Landing, Zion National Park

After Zion, we drove to Page, Arizona where it rained all day. The weather prematurely ended our Antelope Canyon tour for fear of flash flooding.

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The sanctum of Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Water streamed down the canyon walls, carrying with it little red grains of sand. Matt and I stood underneath a temporary waterfall in our rain jackets.

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In the car I found red particles of sandstone crystallized to my jacket like salt.

Right before sunset it stopped raining. We spotted a double rainbow through our hotel room window and drove out to the Horseshoe Bend overlook.

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The desert sand had congealed itself into a mud, and puddles were everywhere, signals of the ground’s inability to absorb so much water so quickly. We passed many other tourists and photographers on our way up the short trail to the overlook.

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The pale colors of the cloudy sunset reflected off the surface of the Colorado River.

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Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River, northern Arizona. Ignore the human hand 🙂

I wish I’d had a fisheye lens to better portray the huge, prehistoric bend of riverbed.

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Horseshoe Bend

More temporary waterfalls streamed down from the desert surface into the canyon.

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All smiles, all orange at Horseshoe Bend

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From Page we drove through Monticello, Utah and out to a tract of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land known as Indian Creek, famous among rock climbers for its beautiful sandstone cracks sized almost perfectly for hands and fingers.

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Indian Creek, Utah

We luckily found one unoccupied campsite at Hamburger Rock (with a pit toilet, hooray!).

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Part of our campsite at Hamburger Rock in Indian Creek, Utah

We spent a couple days at Indian Creek—Matt leading some hard and impressive routes, me starting to come to a sort of understanding with the way I would need to position my hand inside a crack in order to pull down on it like gripping a rung on a ladder, reset my feet ever higher, and do it again, and again, and again.

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Splitter cracks! All the gear!

Climbing, ladies and gentlemen. Tackling infinite variations of rock formations with the same square pegs—hands, feet. Not simply admiring but analyzing, utilizing. How can I lean against this? How can I stand atop it? How can I twist and contort my body such that I find a shape against the rock that feels almost like a rest? How, then how? The landscape a puzzle.

One of the highlights of the trip was undeniably the hike we did in Canyonlands National Park on Thanksgiving Day.

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Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

When I’d told people about my plan to go to Canyonlands, I kept hearing recommendations to go to this particular area—Chesler Park, which is accessed via the Needles District of the park. Its remoteness drew us, too.

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The Needles of Canyonlands National Park, Utah

We began at the Elephant Hill trailhead, then took that out-and-back trail to a loop (I like to call this style of trail a “lollipop”) through the Chesler Park area. The out-and-back section of the trail gave us some beautiful scenery of the “needles,” sandstone formations.

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Walking amid the Needles, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

It took us through an eerie slot canyon, too, another dried-up crease in this landscape’s fabric.

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Matt in a slot canyon (on the trail!) in Canyonlands National Park

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Matt took this one of me- same slot canyon, all the awe

In the meadows and open spaces we walked among cactus, pinyon pines, and warped junipers.

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Matt can’t *not* climb

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In the grottoes of the wider canyons there were yellowing cottonwoods, and Russian olives and shinnery oaks gone brown. I was surprised to see so many deciduous trees and bushes.

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More needles! Canyonlands National Park

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Armed with jackets, trail mix, and enthusiasm in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The rock formations felt otherworldly, enigmatic. Perhaps this is because their histories, though still mostly unknown, are worn visible on their surfaces. The layers of sediment, proof of years and years, are outwardly visible. Their shape, sculpted by weather’s wind and water, speaks to their experience. We cannot entirely know this history, but we are invited to know by the unlayering made visible—we can start to know.

The final day of our trip (not including driving back to Laramie) was spent in Arches National Park, just outside the town of Moab. The contrast between Arches and Canyonlands was immediately apparent. A long line of cars with out-of-state license plates waited at the park’s entrance to be admitted. The parking lot for the Delicate Arch trail was nearing capacity. A park ranger worked to empty the overflowing trash bins nearby. Children cried and argued noisily. There were lines for each pit toilet, and above each toilet was a sign instructing visitors, among other things, to please go in the toilet rather than on the floor.

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Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Due to the recent rains (it had rained here as well as in northern Arizona), the upper road to the Delicate Arch overlook was underwater, so we parked at the trailhead and did the 3-mile out-and-back hike. The trail was reminiscent of Angels Landing at Zion National Park with practically no shade and lots of hiking directly on slick sandstone, but significantly less steep and exposed this time around. The trail was cut out of the rock in places, but those sharp corners had been smoothed over by years of foot traffic.

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Maybe it was the crowds, the two hikers I’d seen shuffling down the trail in their Uggs, or the iconic image of Delicate Arch (it’s the one on all the Utah license plates), but I just wasn’t impressed by Arches, and certainly not in the same way I’d been impressed by Zion and Canyonlands. Was this eerily red and open landscape (an earth-wound) becoming familiar already? Maybe I’d arrived with unrealistic expectations, or I’d let myself be bothered by the presence of hundreds of other people who were also there for the same reason (so hypocritical), allowing a minor discomfort subsume the odd and fragile beauty of this place.

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More Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Hiking back down from Delicate Arch, we took a quick detour to see some petroglyphs believed to have been carved by members of the Ute tribe, after whom Utah is named, in the late 1700’s since the people depicted are on horseback.

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The petroglyphs in Arches National Park, Utah

So maybe my characterization of this desert land being one that only experienced in passing is false? How would these people have survived? The National Park Service says the Ute and Paiute were nomadic peoples at that time, traveling seasonally as needed for food, water, and shelter.

This red, sparse land gives the impression of openness—open to curiosity and exploration just as to death and slow, methodical destruction. But inherent in the brutal openness of desert is a threat, some lurking danger. The ground beneath you may shift to sand, may collapse to canyon, may flood instantaneously. The surrounding air burns you all day and chills you all night. These extremes constitute a radical abundance, one both delicate and fierce.

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Yours truly, dizzy with joy in the Devil’s Kitchen area of Canyonlands National Park, Utah