Happy Easter from the beach nearest my condo. It is only four miles from where I sleep, but I have to drive in the car, cross a state line and go through a fee station to get here. I am lying on my beach towel, conducting a little self-care, taking a mini R&R, and thinking Easter thoughts. Perhaps I’ll just rest and relax here until Someone brings me grilled fish and little loaves of bread, breaks the bread and offers it to me saying, “Take. Eat.” Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful Easter Sunday brunch? Wouldn’t that make a believer out of you? But for now, I have the balm of the wet sand and sunshine, the smell of the water, and I will try to relax. I will not check my cell phone – which doesn’t have a signal out here anyway-to see if someone at the office needs me. I will spend an hour or two in sacred silence. I will walk away spiritually renewed, ready to speak truth, live in peace. I will know myself a little better and consequently be able to better love and understand those around me.
It is Sunday morning as I write this – For many, a traditional day of gathering together in brick and mortar buildings for worship. A time for soul searching, spiritual refreshment. Others like to worship in mountain cathedrals, commune with the great outdoors. Still others find peace in the wilderness.
“If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self.” Terry Tempest Williams
I hope you did something deeply spiritual today, something sacred. May the peace linger with you.
I moved to the desert to find a portion of myself that was lost – my writing. I moved further into the remote to hibernate and polish a manuscript. Have I been successful? Kept a modicum of my resolutions while restoring myself with vast hikes? Yes. I would say so. At least I have reached a milestone.
My recently finished novella of 42,000 words is distributed for beta-read to five women. I am sure the plot is not what you would expect given my propensity for writing philosophically about hiking. But it does chronicle some walking and piano playing and travel and a big move of growth on the part of a 30-year-old woman. Yes, I still remember what it was like to be half my age.
After I clicked send on the manuscript to the beta readers I returned to my other work in progress – also about being young – and hungry – with a child to feed. It needs a major overhaul.
On the back burner is a post apocalyptic novel about a young woman who loves rocks. Let’s hope I get it finished before Steampunk dissipates completely. By and by I’ll get to the collected essays inspired by hiking – maybe posthumously. And then there is a graphic novel in progress – but it must keep the pace of the artist, not the writer.
In a couple days I move on down the Colorado River. I carry with me my piano, my guitar, a bass and cahon; my journal and laptop; my hiking boots and trail shoes. It seems no matter how many goals we meet, things continue the same. I still love to Hike and Write and Make Music. And I still get hungry. I feed myself and pay my bills by working innovatively in non-profit retail. This time the location from which I carry out my goals and resolutions will be the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Staircase Escalante.
I will keep putting one foot in front of the other. How about you? May it always be in beautiful places.
I saw him get out of the car and make his way carefully, painfully toward the glass visitor center doors. The interpretive ranger desk is situated ideally with a view of the five nearest parking spaces and the handicap space. It is not a sit-down desk, it’s more like a bar, really, with shots of information on tap and rangers dispensing topo maps instead of steins.
Creeping slowly up the sidewalk, slinging one foot ahead of the other, he greeted the all-sport 30-year-olds in their jeans and crack climbing gear who were returning from the restrooms. Nice restrooms. The kind with running water where you can actually brush your teeth and wash your armpits after a few days spent camping with the Anasazi.
He took his time coming in the door, feeling for the adjoining wall as a support. I took my time welcoming him and offering a map. I was waiting for the rest of the family to join him before commencing information. He took a drink of water from the fill station. Then, leaning heavily on the desk, he followed its curve to the cash register.
“What I need,” he said, “Is one of those walking sticks – a cane to lean on.” I hurried to the telescoping hiking pole display, selected a pole, extended it to what I judged to be his proper height and handed it to him. He tried it out. “I’ll just see how it works as I tour the visitor center,” he said.
“Would you like to use the wheeled chair while you are enjoying the exhibits and the bookstore?” I asked.
“What?” he said.
“Do you have a park pass?” I asked.
“Park Pass,” I enunciated clearly.
He showed me a vintage Golden Eagle Park Pass.
“I’m eighty years old,” he said, “I can’t hear very well.”
“Can I get you a map and directions, or shall I wait until your family arrives?”
“What? Oh, I am traveling by myself.”
He asked about the campground. Did it really mean what it said about the combined length being 26 feet? His motorhome was only 24 feet. He thought he might be able to park his tow car beside the motor home. Would that be all right? Eventually he bought the hiking pole and a couple books, made his way back to the car and drove the eight-mile loop. He retrieved his motorhome from somewhere alongside the road and camped in the park campground that night. I know this because I saw him pass the entry station three hours later in the motorhome with the car in tow. Both vehicles were snuggly parked side by side in the campground when I did the rove at 8:00 the next morning.
Eighty. He could well have been ninety. Deaf. Difficulty walking even 50 feet; yet he is still busy touring America and seeing the sights.
Twenty years ago I was hiking Box Canyon, Ouray CO, with the man I was wedded to at the time. The trail overlooked a wooded picnic area and we watched a family arrive in a van. They assisted Grandpa as he disembarked into a wheelchair and then they placed him comfortably at the picnic table.
“I hope,” said my husband, “that when I am old and in a wheel chair, someone will still take me camping.”
I have thought of that comment many times in the intervening years as I hiked, camped and travelled to beautiful places. Sometimes alone, other times with friends or family.
Yes! Somehow, some way, may we all keep on putting one foot in front of the other. May we enjoy the great outdoors until our last breath. Because out there is beauty and refreshment and life!
“I love to go a wandering, along the mountain path; and as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back.” Who hasn’t chortled that song at the top of their lungs whilst trekking with a group of young people? Though I have grown older, I am nothing if not a happy wanderer.
So often the things we love most to do in life dovetail. Hiking and Music. That’s the perfect combination for me. Hiking. Writing about it. Writing a musical about it. Even better.
Nowadays I don’t often sing while hiking. Silence is better in the great outdoors. I embrace it. I think better in solitude. But there are times a tune whistled or hummed is just the right thing to get you through a narrow passage, barren stretch, or energize you for extra effort.
I have learned something about hiking along the Colorado River or its tributary canyons: There be willows – sometimes tamarisk – in riparian areas and sand bars. Willows and tamarisk can slap you, lash you and poke your eyes out.
Further up White Canyon from Sipapu Natural Bridge, the willows tower above my head, yet in the undergrowth, the trail is clear. The animals who regularly roam these paths are short, maybe coyotes. And there, on the wildlife path, I discovered a new way to wield my hiking pole.
Keep your hand at the level of your eye, may be a famous line from Phantom of the Opera but it’s also the latest principle I learned while putting one foot in front of the other.
Take your staff by the hilt, but still pointing down. Now salute with your fist in front of your nose, thumb on forehead, fist, pole and forearm vertical. You can now see around either side of your fist, your walking pole will part the willows from your forehead to your knees and you just might come out of the brush free of most lashes and scratches and without your eyes smarting.
Cue marching music. Let’s go a wandering, friends, with our hand at the level of our eyes
I stopped in at the grocery market on 12th Street and purchased a couple food items. It was Tuesday so the store was filled with Tuesday discount shoppers. In one checkout line four or five group home residents were lined up with an assortment of express lane items. In the lane I chose an older couple (as in, older than me) was slowly shuffling through the mechanics of buying groceries. The checker, a middle-aged high functioning special needs man, was cheerily and patiently providing customer assistance. A bottle blond and hairspray grandma a little younger than me approached with her six year old grandson. He flopped the purchases up on the belt. I reached for the divider bar and inserted it between orders, whereupon grandma said, “Oh. Sorry.” (“no problem”). And the odor of alcohol wafted on the air. Not too whiny and not too impatient, the little boy began to while away the time by singing:
Boy: Baa Baa black sheep have you any wool…”
Checker (as he begins to scan my items): Well all I have to say to that is, ‘yes sir, yes, sir three bags full.’
Grandma: ‘One for my master and dum dem dum, how’s that go? Lives down the lane.
Checker: sings the lines again and gets stuck in the same phrase.
The line has now been joined by a white female of approximately 35 in a tank top and tattoo looking like a muscle builder who needs to loose 50 pounds fast.
Grandma and Boy: Baa Baa black sheep have you any wool, yes sir, yes sir, three bags full. One for my master and one ….????
Newcomer: One for my master and one……dum de dum…lives in the lane. How does that go?
Me (having completed payment): One for my master and one for my dame and one for the little boy that lives down the lane.
Where upon the pleased cashier spins and high fives me jubilantly.
We all slept well that night.
To take a hike every morning -on the clock – and be compensated by a roof over my head. What more could an outdoor loving woman want? Perhaps food? Food is a good idea. At some point – and soon- that will need to be addressed.
But savor with me for a moment an early morning rove through a pristine campground. First a half-mile walk through a piñon-juniper woodland, then a quarter mile trek around a lightly paved loop passing 13 campsites.
No one has been here in the past 24 hours. How do I know? Six inches of new fallen snow blankets everything. Mine are the only tracks. Wait a minute, what is that miniature train track, that zipper imprint in the snow crossing my path? Kangaroo rat? Deer mouse? I see the tail drag. Deer mouse, I conclude. I fill in the campground report.
The next day more new snow has fallen. Once again I am the only creature stirring on two legs. On the paved loop a cottontail found my trail and joined it for 20 yards. Day three I tramp through knee deep snow A jackrabbit has crossed my path of yesterday in bounding strides. On day four I am off work so I don’t have to rove the loop, but how can I resist? I borrow a pair of snowshoes twice my size and decide to break a path in 18 inches of snow. Day five I follow my snowshoe path in my hiking boots. Five days and still no tire tracks in the campground or human prints save mine. On impulse I fall on the undisturbed snow and make a snow angel right in the middle of the less travelled road, laughing to think how this will look from the elevated perspective of a Mini Wini driver. Day six, a mule deer has joined my path through the piñon-juniper woodland, leaving cloven tracks inside mine and a pile of deer scat to the left of the trail and then another to the right.
The sun has been shining these past few days, the snow steadily shrinking and melting. Each day there are new signs in the campground. A tent space cleared of snow and the footprints of a hardy camper. Tire tracks indicating arrival and early departure of a camper truck. And still, my boots make the only stride on the woodland path. And this morning? Blue and gray scrub jays scold and a juniper tit-mouse taps out a question and response to its mate. The sunshine is glorious. Clear and fresh inside my boot print, continuing for 15 feet I see them: Bobcat.
Let’s be clear.
I stood up for you, not because I agree with your opinion, but because I believe you have a right to your opinion.
I marched with you, not because I agreed with the position of everyone who marched, but because I supported your right to be heard.
“Do you love your children?” my roommate asked. Yes.
“Do you like your children?” my roommate asked. Yes.
“Do you like all the choices they make? No.
But they are grown. They exercise rights. They make their own choices.
When President Jimmy Carter reinstated the draft in 1980, there was a huge outcry. People protested. The front page of my hometown newspaper featured a 21-year-old holding a sign: Is anything worth dying for?
Your right to sit there on the curb with that protest sign.
Freedom of Speech is precious.
I may not agree with everything you say. Sadly, much of what you say may be unfounded.
But oh, how I champion and applaud your right to say it!
I saw that a majority of my good friends from all over the country were marching. Women of all generations. They are smiling, thoughtful, intelligent women who have seen much they didn’t like – especially in the last few months. Many of them are history buffs and well know that women have not always had the right to vote.
They also remember personally what it feels like to not have a voice-to be disrespected in the workplace or the home simply because they are female. Others have experienced firsthand that it is more difficult for a woman to get a higher paying job – a job that is often reserved for men because men will not settle for the lower paying jobs.
Some had dignity and esteem gouged from them during the young and learning years when they were seen just as an object – something beautiful to toy with and tease and demand favors of in the workplace. They are wiser now. Stronger. Firm. Not often angry, just insistent that their daughters not have to fight the very same fight over again.
I was out of town, off the grid, well beyond the bounds of any city or civic institution. I followed the news with interest. The march was referred to as a protest and that startled me. I saw that some of the women carried placards refuting or against a particular person -the new president of the United States.
Protest is strong language to me and I dreaded seeing violence or law-breaking. (Indeed, I continue to be grieved by the emphasis and spin that this is against a person and one person only rather than against policies) But a march? A march of solidarity among women? I had indeed taken my own solitary march that morning – a mile through snow a foot deep that made me long for snowshoes.
Had I been in town, I would have marched with them. Not against a person or thing, but for several things:
For doing the right thing
For logic, reason and wisdom to prevail
But mostly for love
Love in all things
Love to the stranger and alien
Love to our families
a kinder, gentler and more understanding response
and courage in place of fear
Because perfect love casts out fear
It’s like morning matins, I said. And she, thinking I said morning maintenance, nodded in agreement.
The early church had some set times for daily prayers, meditations, observances. Some were referred to as matins and others as vespers.
My early years within the bounds of evangelicalism stressed the discipline of morning prayers – don’t leave home without them.
Contemporary thinking gives credence to meditation in many forms, looking inward, quieting the thoughts.
“This,” I clarified, “This morning walk in solitude, this is morning matins for me. I can’t live without it.”
I have adopted a few healthful morning rituals mentioned in Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project (2009):
Take a drink of water before you rise
Get out of doors as soon as possible
Engage in at least 20 minutes of rigorous exercise
That morning walk or hike is beyond helpful. It is essential to a clear head and a stable emotional life. I suspect it supports good physical and spiritual health as well.
Morning Maintenance, Morning Matins
No matter how you say it. Do it.