Category Archives: Recreation & Adventure

My cynical mind and the bright light of Alex Honnold

alex

We got our tickets to see Alex Honnold a month in advance. It seemed like a cool little event worth attending, not because of Alex’s climbing ability, which is incredible, but because Alex seemed like a thoughtful person who had something to say. I was more interested in him as a person than him as a climber. Did he have something to say, and more importantly, did he have something to say worth listening to?

As the date of the event grew nigh, I realized he would be in town the day I returned from work related travel. I didn’t feel well on the drive home and started to question whether I would attend the book signing and even the presentation later in the evening – which was what I really wanted to attend.

How badly did I really want to go to this thing? I asked myself.

My climbing days were lean at best and non-existent at worse. I can’t even call myself a weekend warrior as work and kids suck up most of my time and every choice invariably requires giving up one thing for another. I had also lost touch with those in the climbing community as our lives seemed to go in different directions and I felt like a poser calling myself a part of it anymore. So with 30 minutes between getting home and the book signing started, I was still up in the air, but the family wanted to go and so I hurried over. How bad could it be, right?

When we opened the door to The Desert Rat we were greeted to a line snaking its way around the small outdoor store. I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was and felt a little discombobulated as we meandered through the crowd to the end of the line. We stopped and visited with friends we had not seen in what seemed like ages and I felt a twinge of remorse for the lost time because it great to see them again.

As I stood in line I realized I didn’t know anything about Honnold’s book and wasn’t sure I wanted to buy a copy just for the hell of it. What was it about? I thought. Is it just about climbing? I finally asked a guy behind me if I could look at his copy to see what the book was about.

“In Alone on the Wall, Honnold recounts the seven most astonishing climbing achievements so far in his meteoric and still-evolving career.”

It sounded okay but along with not having time to climb, I don’t have a lot of time to read, so I choose my books carefully. I didn’t want to waste my time reading a book that just recounted climbing stories. I handed the book back to the guy.

Do I really want to spend my money on this? I thought. I honestly just wanted to hear him speak. That being said, I also didn’t want to spend an hour in line just to get up there and shake the guy’s hand – how weird would that be? So I bought a copy of the book and got my obligatory signature and photo, chatted with some more friends and then headed home for dinner.

We had time to kill after eating so we sat down to watch a TV show and again I found myself up in the air about attending the presentation. I was home, it was warm and cozy, and I was relaxed and weary. It was raining and cold outside and I didn’t want to leave again. But my curiosity won out. I wanted to hear what Alex, the guy I had seen in so many Reel Rock films, had to say, because in the films he came across as someone who could stand alone and think for himself, who lived by his own code seemingly humbly and with humor, and who was not afraid to put his opinion out there. That was who I came to see and that was who I hoped to read about in the book.

In other words, I wanted to listen to Alex because I liked him.

So I bundled up and headed out again. The auditorium was packed with excited fans and when Jason Hurst finally introduced Alex, the crowd burst into applause and anticipatory cheering.

Right off the bat I was stoked about his presentation because he told us he was going to talk about his recent trip to Kenya. He was relatable, funny, witty, humble, snarky, and the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed guy I had seen in the films. It was a pleasure to walk through his adventures with him. But the best parts were those when he wandered off into the world of ethics and morality.

Honnold spoke about dying glaciers, mourning elephants, and the struggle between conservation and destruction as if in wide-eyed wonder at what he had stumbled upon. His words and emotion were a mixture of awe and dismay, of sincerity and conviction and at times he seemed to be thinking out loud – and we the audience could hear him as he formed thoughts about what he had discovered.

It was refreshingly genuine. He wasn’t regurgitating what he had heard from others and he wasn’t promoting environmental tag lines that revealed the cool club he belonged to. He spoke clearly and honestly about what he saw.

Being of like mind I thought, if there was ever an effective spokesman for the moral crises that humanity faces in regard to our disregard of the earth’s systems and life and our intimate place in them, however reluctantly he may be, he is it.

Honnold did not pitch a movie about environmentalism and then spend the whole film showcasing his climbing. He went on a climbing trip and tripped into something significant that impacted him – and then it impacted us. He did not state any absolutes or try to convince the audience of anything, he stated simply what he saw and invited us to see and experience it with him. It was compelling.

At the end of his presentation I discovered that all of the proceeds from his book are going to his foundation to give to people who need it the most. I work hard for my money and have precious little of it, so I was thrilled to find out that my hard earned $20 was going to more than shaking a man’s hand, and more importantly, going toward something I care deeply about.

Mary Oliver, in describing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendentalism said, “All the world is taken in through the eye, to reach the soul, where it becomes more, representative of a realm deeper than appearances: a realm ideal and sublime, the deep stillness that is, whose whole proclamation is the silence and the lack of material instance in which, patiently and radiantly, the universe exists.”

Emerson said, “Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the higher point of view.” And I think that is what Honnold shared. He climbed, but while he did, he took in the world where it reached his soul and was transformed into something more. It was about more than climbing. It was about what climbing invites you into, what you can see, and what you become through it – if you choose. I saw Honnold using his climbing wealth to give back.

And perhaps therein lies the greatest responsibility of those who contemplate and think and are moved to act: to let the world penetrate the soul and then open one’s mouth and speak authentically about it.

While I admire Alex Honnold the climber, and I know it is that which got him the platform from which to speak in the first place, his climbing is not what moved me. He moved me. I am a fan of the man and I hope that his experiences compel him to speak more, to share more of the internal make-up of who he is, because beautiful form in a person of substance is an inspiring combination the likes of which lit up my cynical mind. And the best part? He inspired my kids. That alone was worth the price of five books- and every minute it takes to read my copy.

Advertisements

The Fine Line Between Being Safe and Living in Fear

Crawford Arch, Zion National Park

Crawford Arch, Zion National Park

Originally published by the Philadelphia Rock Gym

Crawford Arch is a thin spindle of an arch. From the valley floor it looks like a toothpick leaning against the massive rock formation it stems from. Until someone told me you could hike to it, it never occurred to me that it was possible to see it up close. But from that moment on, I wanted to see it for myself.

That day came in March. A group of us met up in the pre-dawn of a cold morning and set out on what would be a 12 hour day hike up to the arch and back down. We made our way in the warm glow of the morning sun, enjoying the solitude and beauty of the backcounty. Upon arriving, the arch was even more spectacular than I had imagined. It looked like the rock wall just sprouted a root. The arch looks delicate, fragile – but when you get to the top of it, it’s a good 10 feet across. I made my way out to where the arch starts to curve and sat down, the first of the group to perch atop it. I waved to my husband to join me for a photo.

Crawford Arch

View upon arrival

He climbed up and then hunched down, not sure he wanted to join me out there questioning whether it would hold his weight. My friend who was taking the photo for us, not realizing that all he had to do was touch the screen of my phone for a photo, and the fact that the sound was off and it doesn’t show a screen shot once a photo has been taken, caught the entire sequence of me cajoling my husband out next to me.

There is a somewhat funny shot of me pointing at the spot next to me and him looking at me with doubt. I posted this photo on Facebook, joking that he was a chicken. A friend of mine responded with a comment that two of her friends had suffered accidents at this arch; one had died and the other suffered body crushing injuries after falling. She then said, “Not worth it.”

I have many fears, but fear of heights is not one of them. This lack of fear comes in handy for outdoor adventure that includes high elevations and sheer drop-offs like climbing, canyoneering, and peak bagging. But I do have different fears and a healthy sense of danger. If something makes me nervous, I will not push it. At no time was I nervous on that arch. As I read my friend’s comment I couldn’t help wondering what her friends had been doing the moment before they fell. Were they goofing around or doing something risky? It’s possible. In my mind, the only thing that would make the arch dangerous is a lack of humility and safety.

Life is inherently risky. It is easy to assign danger and risk to activities like climbing because it “looks” dangerous, but we could die in a car accident on the way to the crag. Obviously my friend suffered from these accidents and has determined that hiking to Crawford Arch is not worth it. And maybe it’s not. But in my mind, there is a fine line between being safe and living in fear. Life is a delicate and exquisite thing, but the pay off comes in spending it. A spider would never catch its prey without the intricate workmanship of its fragile, yet strong web.

We will all die someday, that’s 100 percent guaranteed. No one escapes death. We can live in mortal fear of how that death with come about or we can choose to focus on what we want and live while we can. As William Wallace said in Braveheart, “Everyone dies. But not everyone really lives.”

Life amounts to the decisions we make. Will I climb or decline to try because I might look stupid if I can’t do it? Will I go for that peak or just look at it from the ground? One decision is not better than the other, but your life will amount to the decisions you made; and that culmination will not matter to the world, but to you. In the secret recess of your mind will you wonder, “What if I had tried?” Not everyone has a burning desire to test their limits, but some do, and if that is you, answer the nagging question, “Do I have what it takes?” Swallow your pride and try. Be willing to change who you are now for who you want to become tomorrow.

It’s such a cliché to say that life is short, but if you are older like I am, that phrase has taken on some real meaning, and if you are young, you will discover just how true it is in time. We never know how long we have. If you have an aching desire to try something, take the steps to achieve it. No one climbed Half Dome before learning how to climb first. Overcoming fear is a process like anything else, but as you learn and grow and become stronger, the fear abates and turns into knowledge, confidence, and possibly expertise.

In order to achieve great things we must dare great things, even if the beginning step is putting on a harness and climbing a wall at the climbing gym, because each step is a personal victory. Everyone has to start somewhere. For me, it was getting over my fear of looking stupid. My first time climbing I climbed with a 5.14 climber that I didn’t know very well. I was sweating and nervous and terrified. But I did it. I was 36. That decision changed my life.

Ultimately the worth of attempting something challenging or dangerous is personal. My friend decided that the risks of seeing an arch 2,000 feet up the side of a mountain are not worth it. It was worth it to me. The climb to that arch, the 300 foot rappel to get down, the wind whipping through my hair and an entire golden canyon beneath my feet are the moments I live for. For me, life is most beautiful in those moments of decision when I dare to live.

This is a guest blog I wrote for the Philadelphia Rock Gym. If you are ever in the Philadelphia area, check’m out: http://www.philarockgym.com/

First view

First view

Looking down

Looking down

Blown away

Blown away

Cursing like a sailor and the mountain of life

Shivwits Arch

Shivwits Arch

My curses echoed off the canyon walls as I stood there on the steep face of the mountain, frozen between my middle son who had just thrown a rock at my oldest, and my youngest son gingerly making his way toward me. I put my hands up to my head, ran my fingers through my hair, and took several deep breaths and tried to calm down. I called my sons to me to give them yet again another lecture about the dangers of being in the backcountry before one of them fell headlong to their death – or killed each other with rocks.

My nerves were shot, my heart raced in fear at their careless behavior, and I thought, “What sort of insanity did I ingest this morning that made me think this was a good idea?”

“I’m sorry,” I said to them. “Your mother is a sailor.”

My boys smiled at this odd statement and gave me questioning looks. I am convinced that no adventure in life is greater than parenthood. Once you bring a person into the world, your world is rocked from that moment on. Having children gives you a life of constant worry, heartache, unbelievable joy, comedy, maddening frustration, and the deepest of love.

Children put you in an eternal test that challenges you to the very core of who you are. They are the mirror that reflects back to you your greatest strengths and most deplorable weaknesses. I liken parenting to Shackleton’s voyage on The Endurance. As a parent, it is your job to get your crew through. It is one thing to climb a mountain; it is another thing to work with and care for the minds climbing it.

Last weekend I decided to take my boys up to Shivwits Arch. It is a short, albeit steep hike located in the Virgin River Gorge and requires backcountry bush-wacking. I had never done the hike before but after getting the beta on it, I was certain my boys could do it with my help and guidance.

All was fine for about the first 100 yards as we started our trek up the rocky mountain. It started like a tickle of water, just slight complaints about backaches and tired legs. I talked to the boys in an attempt to keep their minds off of hiking. I gave them tips about not running, not grabbing lose rocks for support, to watch where they stepped, etc. I told them to slow down, that it wasn’t a race. Not 15 minutes in my oldest slipped and almost fell into a ravine. It scared the living daylights out of me. I pulled him up and again told them all to go slow and to take their time.

It is at about this time that I started morphing into Captain Ahab. The trickle turned into a full-blown leak. What started out as complaining turned into reckless behavior in a place that requires care and intentional actions.

“Slow down! Take your time! Use you heads boys! Think! Stop running! Don’t fight! Damn it!” I yelled, “Listen to me!”

I repeated these things over, and over, and over. We would pow-wow, start over, pow-wow again, start again. At this point my kids are starting to suggest that we turn around and go home. We are about half way up.

Shivwits 5“No,” I say, “You can do this.”

I can see what looks like the eye of a needle in the rock. We are so close!

“Keep going,” I tell them, “You will be so glad you did this when you get to the top. You will learn things about yourself you didn’t know. It will be so worth it. Trust me.”

So we slowly make our way, me pushing and prodding the whole time. My two oldest are up ahead of me and I am helping my youngest down below. Rocks are sliding down so I tell the older two to be careful where they step and to try not to dislodge the rocks. I tell them to look for big rocks that won’t move.

As I am saying this, my middle son dislodges a soccer ball sized rock that starts careening toward my youngest who is right in front of me. I curse, grab my son, pull him out of the way, and move. I look up at my son who had let loose the rock and he immediately started crying.

“I want to go home mom,” he cries over and over.

I hike up to him and hug him. I tell him it’s okay, but to be careful and explained what could have happened if I hadn’t had time to get his brother out of the way. Again, I have to coax, cajole, motivate, and push my boys to carry on.

Just below the arch is a slot like chute that you must go through to get out on top. There are trees in it and it requires some stemming and scrambling. It is at this point that I find out my middle son is afraid of heights. We are almost to the top.

“You just have to think and go slow,” I tell him. “Choose your steps and hand-holds carefully. You can do this, look at how far we have come?” We turn back to the tiny speck that our car has become. This doesn’t help. We are very high up. My son looks into my face with his big blue eyes, “Mom, I’m scared.”

I tell him that I am here. I will help him and again reiterate that he can do it.

In the chute

In the chute

And he did. We did.

We got to the top and for a brief moment the trials of getting there were forgotten. We walked round and took in the view. We took some photos and high-fived each other. Our hiatus on the summit was short-lived, however, because we had to get down and it had already taken longer than I had anticipated and I wanted to get started. I had read that there was an easier way down than the way we came so I scouted it out. I found a path. It looked like a deer or cow trail. We headed out. I secretly prayed it would be easier and that it wouldn’t lead us to some ledge or un-passable spot.

While going up certainly has its challenges, going down is almost worse. Having gravity working with you is a double-edge sword, especially with little boys who find the new speed exhilarating. Again I am yelling at them to slow down, take their time, to stop fighting, and to think. Then it occurs to me, their words!

“What are our words boys?” I ask.

“Be alert, stay calm, think clearly, act decisively,” they all shout.

Wildland firefighters have something called “Standard Firefighting Orders.” They are kind of like the military’s general orders. Number six is what my boys repeated. When I went through fire school that one order caught my attention. I loved it. It was simple and straightforward and while it makes perfect sense for a dangerous job, it also makes sense in general – for life.

Basically it’s saying: “Think dummy. Engage your brain and think before you act.” So much danger can be mitigated by simply thinking. I’m not saying that thinking gets you out of all dangerous situations, but it can keep you from getting into them. I liked it so much I had my boys commit it to memory. They repeat those words to me every night before they go to bed. Kind of like a prayer. Trust in God but keep your powder dry right?

It was shortly after my movie-perfect motivational moment that a competitive race down the face of the mountain between my two oldest boys culminated in one getting hit with a rock. My head exploded. Except for the one crying and holding his hand, they all froze in terror. It was probably at that moment that my words all came rushing back. All the things that I had been saying suddenly crystallized in their little minds.

Herman Melville in Moby Dick said, “Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure….. Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle , and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?”

We normally won’t meet our own “dreaded creatures” until something pushes them to the surface – kind of like dangerous situations. That is why we really find out what we are made of in a crisis. We are tested when we dare challenging and dangerous things – or downright crazy things in my case. Our true self comes out in those moments. While I was never scared on that mountain that we wouldn’t make it, I was afraid of ending up in an emergency situation. My boys didn’t need a sailor, they needed their mom.

I gathered my boys close, looked at their little tear-stained faces and said, “I love you. I don’t want you to get hurt. Please,” I pleaded, “Please slow down and be careful. Let’s get down this mountain in one piece okay?” They all shook their heads and we started back down.

The rest of the way we hiked without another terrifying incident. We made it back to the car alive and in one piece – and they were all beaming – blood, sweat, tears and all. Despite it all, we did it. I hugged my boys, gave them all high-fives, and told them how amazing they were. I was so proud. All frustrations and near-death disasters aside, it was one of the most stellar days I’ve ever had with them. They overcame fears, learned not to quit, and showed what they were made of. Hopefully they won’t end up in therapy over it someday. I can’t begin to imagine how they will remember that day – but I will remember it as a parental endeavor that ended in success. What did I get in return?

“No mom, you were amazing for getting us through it.”

On top of the needle's eye

On top of the needle’s eye

Shivwits Arch

Thar she blows!

The edeavor

The endeavor

Threading the needle

Threading the needle

The Gorge

The Gorge

Looking back a year: Red Mountain Trail in the Snow

Snow Canyon Overlook

Originally published at SUindependent.com

An early Mormon settler visiting St. George from Salt Lake once asserted that if he had to choose between a house in St. George in August and one in hell, he’d choose hell. While Southern Utah is known for its heat and warm weather recreation, and though many enjoy the cool reprieve winter provides, most desert rats and snowbirds find hell an enviable alternative to winter. Even for residents who enjoy winter sports, most like choosing when and for how long they experience the snow. So when snowmageddon descended last year, many looked on with dismay as their temperate weather and year-round recreation come to a freezing halt. Still, though, a small part of the population here was thrilled to explore the unique recreational opportunities in the newly transformed desert.

The first hint of winter appeared in September when an early cold front rolled in to the southwest. It was still warm when we first made plans to hike Kanarraville Falls and what would be the last canyon of the summer, but when that day arrived it was a surprisingly chilly 62 degrees. Heading up the trail we joked about the yearly fall tease that always turns back to summer. But once we stepped into the cold water and shadows from the enclosing mountains, we began to doubt whether summer would return.

Kanarraville FallsThe canyon walls flickered in the mercurial sunlight like a candle disturbed by a restless breeze. Trees and shrubs burst into vibrant colors of red and yellow against the increasing shadows. It was spectacular. Temperatures also continued to drop, so we cut out shortly after reaching the waterfalls at the end of the slot canyon and chased the waning sunlight back through the canyon struggling to stay warm. As we emerged from the canyon, dark purple clouds hung on Pine Valley Mountain to the west, overtaking the sun that was illuminating great swaths of land before finally blinking out. Winter was in the air. We hurried to our cars in a veil of twilight, invigorated by the brisk hike and rapidly changing forecast. As we warmed our cold feet, a voice on the radio alerted listeners to a freeze warning for all of southern Utah.

The unusual weather led many to predict a bitter winter, but cold in the desert is relative and most believed it would still be mild compared to the north. Soon after Thanksgiving, however, and contrary to hopeful thinking, a blistering cold front reminiscent of more northerly climes blew in and dropped 8 to 14 inches of snow. Temperatures fell below freezing for over a week, and county roads remained unplowed as residents were left to navigate the wintry conditions at their own risk if they chose not to heed warnings to stay home. Even church was cancelled.

The desert seemed to literally freeze into a bluish-white landscape overnight. According to historic weather data, a record breaking winter hits southern Utah roughly every 40 years. While many experiencing this rare treat find it to be anything but, there are some who looked forward to the promise of snowy adventures with glee, and jumped at the chance to strap on some Yaktrax, crampons, snowshoes, or skis and play in the snow locally.

Snow amplifies the alluring qualities of solitude and peace found in the desert: places normally bustling with tourists and crowds become serenely quiet and still; wildlife can be heard, and traces of their presence are more easily seen; and canyons that are normally familiar transform into wintry and unfamiliar versions of themselves. Exploring the desert during the winter is much like getting out into the back country, whether you are really in the back country or not. Winter may just be the best time of year to visit the desert, but if you really want a rare experience, visit after a record breaking snowstorm. The best part? You get to explore the dramatically changed landscape as if for the first time.

Snow Canyon, considered by many to be a geologic paradox waiting to be explored, could not be more inviting and inspire more awe than when snow accentuates all the ripples and folds of the canyon features. Usually swarming with people seeking the hidden canyons and humbling views beneath the vertical walls, it empties quickly when temperatures drop significantly, leaving an abundance of opportunities to enjoy the canyon. Because most of the trails are sandy and not too steep, they can be hiked as easily during winter as in warmer seasons, and even the steeper and rockier hikes can be done with very little gear.

One winter favorite is Snow Canyon Overlook. It’s always a chilly hike in December, but last year it was not just a cold and snowy trek, it offered a spectacular wintry vista. The trail starts outside of Snow Canyon off highway 18 near the southern end of Dammeron Valley, and ends at the northern tip of Snow Canyon. It provides a view of the entire canyon all the way out to the Arizona Strip, that when covered with snow, looks like a chute blazed by Boreas and his stampeding wintry hordes.

Pine Valley Mtn from Snow canyonThough for us Snow Canyon is always a place of Christmas ritual, we had to get out and explore it while covered in snow. It was spectacular inside the park, but we wanted a panoramic view from the top. So not waiting until Christmas Eve as usual, we excitedly stuck out while the temperatures were still low and the snow was deep. The two mile hike to the overlook, untouched except for a solitary pair of footprints, sparkled in the sun and was barely recognizable as it wound through trees and over slick rock.

The outcrop at the overlook was peacefully quiet and serene, more magnificent than we had ever seen it. The whole world looked fragile, crystalized, as if a whistle could shatter it. Looking out at the frosty mountains and white desert expanse we kicked ourselves for not coming prepared with a thermos of coffee to enjoy with the view.  Without a way to keep warm in the frigid temperatures, we snapped some photos and turned back. Rejuvenated by the exposure and invigorated by the physical activity, we headed for our second favorite winter pastime: drinking coffee.

With warm cups of coffee in our hands, thawing us from the inside out, we looked through our photos and marveled at how different southern Utah looked. Even though we had seen it with our own eyes, it was still hard to believe. Cold in the desert is shocking because the mind does not easily put the two together, but the chance of experiencing it during a rare 40 year storm is fantasy-like. Donning cold weather gear, seeing our breath puff lightly in the cold air, and the promise of warmth that home and hearth provide from a cold winter outing is a gift the desert rarely provides. Even those who prefer the heat can’t help getting caught up in the excitement that winter brings, however briefly it may stay. It is a time to relish and enjoy because soon enough the heat will return and claim its rightful place here in the desert. And luckily for all you snowbirds and desert rats who hate the cold, it will probably be business as usual this year. But it’s still fun looking back and reminiscing about snowmageddon 2013.

Christmas comes in July

First sign of clouds

First sign of clouds

In the desert, Christmas comes in July. It is the time when the normally blue slate of sky darkens with heavy clouds that move in over the motionless desert and explode with sound, light, and water, waking life in a celebratory and dramatic manner.

The great thirst ends for a period when the desert’s longing finds satisfaction. But it is not just the desert that comes to life; people do as well.

In a somewhat synonymous awakening, the emotional response to the weather seems to match the physical transformation taking place outside, hinting at a difference between living and being alive. It is when one feels alive that the difference between the two is realized. One is passive, while the other is active; one suggests acquiescence, the other a willful choice. But not during the monsoons; the monsoons seem to instinctually bring it out.

For her, feeling alive was having something turned on inside, and like the desert, it seemed to happen easily during the monsoon season, but it always had to happen out there.

Never was the sensation of feeling alive more real than when exposed to the elements, or further heightened in the presence of danger. Because for her the sense of feeling alive came between the thrill of exposure and the tranquility of sanctuary, the storms offered a rare gift, acting as a catalyst that spontaneously increased and enhanced that sensation.

The life to be lived was not in her books or her work or in town, but in contrast to them out there in the dramatic theater of nature in what can be seen, felt, and touched. In those moments, like the palate perceiving hidden flavors in a robust wine following a soft, rich cheese, her senses came together in an intoxicating symphonic crescendo.
While not constant, the intermittent notes kept her energized during the lulls. But the monsoons were different. During the monsoons the lulls all but disappeared amidst a cacophony of notes coming together in a prolonged climactic chorus of palpable pleasure, and the monsoons were coming soon.

She lives on the edge of wilderness, acre upon hundreds of acres of it right out her door. She can walk outside and within steps be on that worn, dusty path that leads up into public land lying underneath the shadow of the mountain. It is where, on most days, she is able to feel alive if but for a moment in the busy yet monotonous rhythm of life. She never tires of following it; in fact, something lures her out – sometimes daily, often multiple times a day. It is not the mountain’s call that she hears, but rather a wild call from within which seeks expression through something equally wild. That road, like a musical climb, is the path of promise where she consistently finds her notes.

Earth & Sky

Earth & Sky

Most days she is filled with anticipation at finding sanctuary there. Today is not much different than all the other days except that it is July. As she ascends into the sage and juniper landscape and the houses slowly fade from view, she breathes it in and her body, aroused, awakens and responds. Her skin warms in the sun and tingles in the intermittent breeze. She wants to run, go faster, feel her heart pound, push her body hard, sweat, exhaust her muscles, and beat herself against the solid earth. All of her senses alert and attuned to her surroundings.

As the road turns steeper and rockier and bends up into the foothills, she finds her rhythm and feels like she is floating over the land. Exhilarated she watches the skirt of the mountain unfold in front of her, enticing her into hidden valleys and rolling hills obscured from below.

As she pushes her way further into the secret places of the mountain, she enters a spiritual place inhabited by ravaging wind and water, where signs of predators and prey hint of life unseen, but present. The landscape reveals a savage struggle for life that she becomes a part of when she joins it – open and exposed, it is ruggedly alluring. She presses deeper with a burning fervor and pursues the ravishing beauty that stands before her, waiting, beckoning, and available for the taking. It is her siren, as dangerous as it is seductive. All alone she savors the intimacy. She stops and catches her breath.

Smell of rain

Smell of rain

She picks some creosoteleaves and a scoop of dirt and rubs them between her hands, inhaling the faint scent of arid land and summer rain. She relishes the storm in her hands a moment before taking a clue from the sky that the real thing might be coming soon and lets the earth blow through her fingers in the quickening and frenzied wind and heads back down.

Cloud explosion

Cloud explosion

When returning home from town, exhilaration fills her again. The mountain, like Colossus that we petty men walk under and peep about, stands towering majestically against the gathering clouds bubbling and growing into gargantuan formations that cast eerie shadows on the landscape below.

Like a fertility God, the undulating cloud formation looms over the mountain as if competing for worship. The spectacle is blushingly pornographic in its vertical rise up out of the flat desert floor. She half expects to see rice cakes fall from the sky and people wishing for babies frantically scrambling about to catch them. Tearing her eyes away from the climax building in front of her and scanning the horizon, she sees that clouds are moving in from all directions, slowly drowning out the sky. She wishes for rain, the first rain that will mark the beginning of the monsoon season and a break from the monotonous summer heat.

As she gets closer to home she sees a vulture teeter-totter through the sky, a black gash against the iridescent clouds. As it probes the air for the scent of a carcass she finds herself craving banana cream pie. Maybe the weather brings it out, she thinks, watching the bird. She contemplates stopping by a café for an afternoon treat and wonders if she has always felt an urge to satisfy a physical desire in response to a natural, tempest-like drama. While she ponders this, the smell of rain rushes in through the car window. She inhales deeply, certain that the fertility God will shower rain down on the thirsty land; perhaps in response to her awe at his glorious display. She turns her music up and speeds into the threatening storm, letting her mind feast lustily on thoughts of pie and precipitation.

When she pulls into the driveway, her mouth salivating at the thought of tasting the sweet pie sitting next to her, she rethinks taking the pie in. Instead she gathers up her kids, some blankets and forks, and heads up the dirt road to the foothills beneath the pregnant clouds threatening to unload. Squeals of laughter erupt in the back seat of the car as the wind blows forcefully through the open windows.

Like a wolf knocking at the door, they instinctually quiet down in response to the forceful gale beating at the car, excitedly chattering in hushed undertones. She smiles at them through the mirror and continues the steady crawl up the rough road. After finding a good spot to view the storm from, she parks and opens the hatch and she and the gaggle of kids climb into the back. The wind blows briskly into the open car as they scramble under blankets and prepare for the show. She slyly opens the box and cuts her first bite of pie, savoring the sweet, creamy desert for a brief moment before the kids notice and mad rush her with their forks and plunge in to devour it. As they fill their bellies with pre-dinner desert, lightning begins to strike. Within seconds thunder pummels after it, chased by crashing waves of rain. The kids periodically duck and play under the blanket, their laughter and noise drowned out by the deafening roar of the rain.

Front row seats

Front row seats

Knowing how quickly the desert can turn into a violent and dangerous place, she decides to head back down before they have to bivouac on the mountain for the night. The soil is already saturated and water is running across its surface before she turns the car on. As she makes her way down she can feel the car slide and spin in the gooey mud. She watches small, rushing rivers appear out of nowhere, growing larger and fiercer as they cut through the soft earth. Large pools form in the uneven road, providing opportunities to make large, muddy waves for her delighted children as they splash through. The water is mesmerizing.

She wonders if the great flood started just like this and what this place would look like if it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. It wasn’t hard to imagine her mountain community getting washed into the ocean hundreds of miles away; gone. But there is no great flood today, just a typical desert thunderstorm.

Sunset

Sunset

After baths, stories, and the kids are in bed the dark house quietly protects against the thrashing storm outside. The sun has long since gone down and the lightning now rules the sky like a hostile popcorn popper; flash, snap, crack. The sight and sound of the desert thunderstorm breaks across the sky like gladiators wreaking havoc in a celestial coliseum for the mesmerized audience below. She sits by the window with a cup of tea and watches the violent upheaval taking place in those brief flashes of light. What produces such a physical manifestation of imbalance in the atmosphere, she wonders, air expansion, pressure, and temperature all duking it out causing the air to rip apart in light and sound.

Even the sky is fraught with violence, she muses, is it any wonder that humans are also violent? Were we not made from the same materials?

It is an intriguing thought, one that her mind wants to grab hold of and inspect, but it is fleeting. She mentally chases after it, trying to capture it again, but it is gone. She drifts off to sleep, cuddled up in her blanket on the couch, safe from the raging storm outside. Only hours later she is jolted awake by a thunderous crack above her house. A thrill runs through her as she rushes to her room and slides under the covers. Her mind plays with thoughts of desire as she nestles under the blankets: warm hands running up her legs, wet kisses brushing her neck. Her body responds momentarily as she entertains stormy night fantasies before falling back into a delicious sleep.

The morning opens like a soft and lovely melody. The cold winter air grazes her skin and the rose-colored sunlight dances behind her eyelids as she begins to wake. The taste of summer is still on her mind as she opens her eyes, remembering that yesterday was Christmas. The gifts were given, the food had been beautifully prepared, and the house had been filled with holy festivities, but it was summer that teased her mind with sweet memories.

The room was aglow with the rebirth of light and another day that in her imagination could be a summer day. In no rush to get up, she lies languidly in her warm bed staring lazily at the sunny ceiling until the smell of coffee floats in on the air, coaxing her to get up.

As she sips her coffee and looks out the window, all is calm and sweet and clear. She knows she will head up that road in the harsh winter light and feel the cold burn on her cheeks as she seeks her mountain sanctuary. She will feel winter’s rejuvenation when she is done, but it will pale in comparison to the monsoons that erupt in waves of spectacular release after the long and unrelenting tension of summer. But Christmas is over and the sun beckons, reminding her that summer is not far away. The thought is almost as good as the coffee. She unconsciously smiles in anticipation.

Longing for summer

Longing for summer

 

 

%d bloggers like this: