Mother Nature

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Mother Nature provides.
She will take care of you.
Treat her with respect.
Ask for guidance.
And she will show you the way.
But treat her as something to be conquered.
Something to be tamed.
And she knows how to fight back.
And she will.
Treat her with love.
Treading lightly on her soil.
Careful not to step on her flowering gardens.
And she will treat you with love.
And show you marvels beyond your wildest dreams.

~Scott Stillman

Last Post from the Road.

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This was the final post written during our year-long road trip in 2015.

The days come and go like the pages of a book.  It’s late April, the day before my 42nd birthday.   Ten months on the road and it all seems like a long, decadent dream.  I’ve fallen gracefully into the natural rhythm of myself.  I wake when I awake.  I go to sleep when I’m tired.  The stars greet me each evening like old friends.  I’m in tune with them and they are in tune with me.  I don’t know why this is so important, but it is.  Knowing the phases of the moon, the orientation of Venus, Ursa Major, Pleiades, and Orion, allows me to feel part of the universe, not separate from it.  In the mornings, I wake slowly, watching the sun come up over the canyons, back of beyond, over the hills, mountains, and plains.  With soft music flowing from our camper, I sip my tea and allow myself time to slip from one dreamworld into another.  Sometimes I cannot tell which is which, or if it even matters.

How will this all change when I transition back into the “real world?”  I’m not even sure which one is real anymore.  Will I be able to bring this peace back with me?  Back into the busy world of schedules, deadlines, payments, commitments, and obligations?  Will I remain part of the flow of the universe, or quickly become immersed in the hustle and bustle of city life, feeling myself separate once again?  Time will tell.

Staying in the flow is the key.  Remaining in touch with my body, the moon, the stars, sunrise, sunset, and remembering, knowing, that all is me.  And that the crystal clear waters of these desert canyons still flow, even while I am not here to witness them.  That the phases of the moon still take place.  That the constellations and the planets still make their journey across the night sky.  And that I only have to stop, look up, and look around, to see that everything, absolutely everything is beautiful.

Coyote Gulch, Utah part 2

Coyote Gulch

Coyote Gulch, UT part 2

Evening.  This canyon is alive.  Teeming with life.  Deer stroll.  Frogs croak.  As the light starts to fade, the bats come out, diving at mosquitos.  There are exotic moths, the size of hummingbirds.  Then darkness.  Strange echoes bouncing off the walls of the canyon.  Crickets.  Voices in the gurgling stream.  Rustling trees.  More frogs.  Dreams…

Morning.  The happiest of canyons!  A mystical quality here rings with life.  Rings with love.  Rings with happiness!  My own eyes sparkle clear and blue.  My breathing is easy and effortless.  Heart full, mind at ease.  A buzzing energy runs through my body and through everything around me.  A special kind of energy that only occurs when chaos and anarchy reach absolute perfection.  Millions of years of wind, water, and erosion have created a sandstone masterpiece at this exact pinpoint of time in evolution, and I happen to be alive to enjoy it!  How lucky am I!  How incredulous is it that the birds, the animals, the fish, trees, planets, Valerie and I, that we are all here, at this most crucial moment in time, to witness such an event as this heaven on Earth.  The search is over.  I have arrived.

We are born searching.  Many of us, anyhow.  We are born searching for God.  Searching for Truth.  Those of you who have experienced that desperate longing deep down inside of you know what I am speaking of.  We are always searching.  Searching for something that we want so desperately, but cannot name.  Here that searching is gone.  So completely gone that the mere idea of it suggests madness.  Insanity.

What is this primal wisdom that prevails deep within the fissures and folds of the Earth.  It is here, for all of us to learn from.  The wisdom of truth that has existed long before the human race.  And a truth that will exist long after we have gone.  There is much to learn.  So much to learn.  It is all here.  Deep within the rock.  Away from the noise and pollution of our cities of concrete and steel.  Away from the mindless chatter of incessant thought.  Away from the madness of modern society.  Her message is very clear, and not one of gloom and doom, but rather one of hope.  Hope that the possibility still exists for global enlightenment.  We are so close, and have been for some time.  A simple flicking on of a light switch is all that is required.  Nothing will have changed, but everything will be different.  Going on about our daily lives we will continue to eat, sleep, work, and play, only with a new perspective.  The perspective of God.

 

Coyote Gulch, UT

Coyote Gulch

Coyote Gulch, UT

It’s four days before my birthday and we’re in my favorite place in the world.  Let’s just call it “Hidden Canyon.”  This is a place I’ve visited many times.  I would describe Hidden Canyon as any place that a dry slickrock desert canyon winds its way down to a spring, which eventually becomes a full on stream, bursting of life.  This magical combination of deep desert canyon, dry desert air, sparkling water, and brilliant blue sky creates the most stunningly beautiful Paradise on Earth that I can imagine. The sound of running water fills the canyon along with butterflies, birds, frogs and lizards.  The filtered shade of cottonwood trees and the soft sandy beaches invite barefoot walking, sunbathing, and general lollygagging.  We have made camp tonight on one of these sandy beaches.  The sun is already down, behind the canyon walls, but the rocks still hold the heat.  The air is pleasingly warm. We sit, Valerie and I, with our toes buried in the sand, still warm from a day of dazzling sunshine, as we enjoy tonight’s feature presentation of shadow and light on the towering canyon walls surrounding us.  Behind us, we notice that high up on a grassy knoll, several deer graze peacefully alone. Tomorrow we will hike through the clear ankle deep water that flows through Coyote Gulch. Along the way we will pass waterfalls, natural bridges, alcoves, and other treasures that this beautiful desert canyon is sure to behold.  Our hearts are light as a feather, and our dreams float on the warm desert wind like fairy tales through the night.

Windstorm: Robbers Roost Canyon Part 2

Robbers Roost Canyon 2

Robbers Roost Canyon part 2

Windstorm.

Today the wind got stronger.  Whatever direction I headed didn’t seem to matter, I was always heading into it. The windstorm became a sandstorm, stinging my face while I walked.  My muscles ached and my body and mind were exhausted.  Where to camp in a place like this?  In my bewilderment, I finally find shelter in a grove of cottonwoods.  Not completely out of the wind, but at least out of the blowing sand.  A big improvement.  Now I sit, waiting for the wind to fade, as it always seems to do at night.  Let’s hope it’s one of those nights.

The windy days have been brutal.  The hiking awkward and laborious.  Deep sand grabs at my feet, robbing me of energy.  But I march on.  For the scenery is grandeur.  And the nights, magnificent.  Each night, the wind stops, creating blissful evenings full of magic.  A mystical calm fills the canyon.  A welcome break from the turmoil of the day.  Indeed, the nights have been the best part of this trip.  This I find to be a reversal of the norm.  Nights in the backcountry can be long and cold.  A time for cooking, cleaning, eating, and sleep.  Not here. When the wind stops, and the stars come out, it’s as if I’ve awaken from a dream.  I stay up late into the evening stoking the fire and watching the moon light up the canyon walls as it passes over my canyon.  When it finally hits me, I am bathed in a warmth felt deeply within my soul.  Yes.  It’s the nights that I will remember most about Robbers Roost.

Things seem much sweeter when paired with their opposite.  A warm sunny day in February.  A cool summer night.  An overdue vacation after a busy period at work.  We need the Yin to enjoy the Yang.  It’s important to remember that everything is working perfectly according to plan.  But we need to keep things in balance, making sure we don’t have too much Yin and not enough Yang.  Or vice versa.  Otherwise, we may need to make a change.  If this wind doesn’t let up soon, I’m gettin’ the hell out of here!

Thanksgiving

John Muir Wilderness

John Muir Wilderness

I’m grateful for it all.  The mountains.  The deserts.  The oceans.  The rainforests.  The small towns and the big cities.  Memories flash through my head in a kaleidoscope of images.  It’s a good life here on Earth.  A good life indeed.  I’ve lived a life of adventure and travel.  Lucky enough to have found my one true love early, I’ve spent my life traveling with her instead of in search of her.  If I died today, I’d die a happy man.  If l live another 40 years, I hope they are as good as the first.  From here on out, life is icing on the cake.

Without a Sound: Robbers Roost Canyon

Robbers Roost

Robbers Roost, Dirty Devil River WSA

Angel Trail.  Starting out as a trail, this route dissolves into a treasure hunt for rock cairns and other clues that suggest a way down to the river.  Just one technical spot presents some difficulty where a short rope would have proved useful, but after an hour or so, I am down.  Though wider than I had expected, the Dirty Devil River is only ankle deep.  So the crossing is easy, but cold.  Now on the other side, I plan to simply to walk two miles downriver to Robbers Roost, the canyon I wish to explore for the next few days.  The walking is not exactly easy.  bushwhacking through thick brush, I find myself trudging through deep sand, crumbling riverbank, and something like mud.  Though slow and tiring, I can feel the solitude of this place creeping in nicely.  No one is here.  No one human.  There are no trails to follow.  No signs.  No people.  I feel a kind of possessiveness come over me.  This place is all mine.

Soon the river canyon comes to life.  Ducks.  Geese.  The rare sighting of an owl, looking down at me with his catlike head.  Hunting.  This is a regular paradise for birds and other animals.  Like a flash of revelation, it occurs to me that this place is like this everyday.  Whether humans are here to witness it or not.  Rather, this is what the Earth was like before humans.  An obnoxiously noisy species, are we not?  With our cars, diesel trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, air conditioners, generators, airplanes, helicopters, etc.  I suppose it’s not so much us humans that are creating the noise.  It’s our machines.  They’ve become monsters.

A woodpecker pecks away at a cottonwood tree branch just above my head.  The only audible sound in the canyon.  It echoes off the canyon walls.  I’m not even sure he’s aware of my presence.  Further down the canyon, I come to what appears to be the opening to my canyon.  More brush.  Thorns.  My bare legs are getting thrashed.  A short ways in, I discover this is not my canyon as it quickly dead ends into an alcove.  I walk on.  Winding around another bend in the river.  The river moves with me.  Silently.  Effortlessly.  I should float on rivers, not walk beside them.  Soon enough, another opening emerges in the cliff walls.  Much larger than the last.  Yes.  This is the one.  This is my canyon.

Wide and inviting, Robbers Roost Canyon opens up revealing her clear sparkling stream of life.  Jewel of the desert.  This is where my hike really begins.  A wet, lush, jungle of a canyon.  The walking doesn’t get any easier.  I expected to be hiking on rock, or at least broken rock.  Not this brush and sand I am struggling through now.  For hours, the hiking goes on like this until I finally arrive to camp, tired and hungry.  It’s a cozy little camp situated in a small alcove.  The only firm ground I’ve seen in miles.  After washing my feet and legs in the stream, I set up my camp chair and make some tea.  Now, sitting in the fading evening sunlight, I truly start to realize the depth of solitude this place offers.  Sandstone walls, hundreds of feet high, tower above my camp.  Cottonwood trees, their bright green leaves glistening in the sun, rustle in the soft breeze.  Oil black Ravens soar the skies above.  Songbirds charm the canyons with their subtle music.  And sweet, sweet nothingness.

Barefoot now, I walk.  The warm sand massaging my tired feet.  Mushrooms, small reeds, and tiny flowers poke their heads up through the sand.  Footprints are everywhere.  Not just mine, but an astonishing variety of others.  Some I can recognize.  Deer.  Bobcat.  Coyote.  And smaller ones.  Chipmunks.  Mice.  Smaller still, lizards, with their tiny feet and long tails trailing behind.  Many, many more I cannot begin to recognize.  This place is teeming with life.  A regular metropolis of animals, birds, bugs, reptiles.  Without a sound.  Very little sound anyway.

What would it be like without our machines?  I try to envision our cities, bustling with people, but no machines.  What would it be like if someone just flipped a switch and all of our machines were turned off at once?  I don’t mean to be hypocritical.  We love our machines, myself included.  Without the automobile, I could not have traveled here.  Not so easily, anyhow.  But at what point do our machines start to become a species of their own?  At what point do they take over our lives?  How long can we continue at this rate?  What will our world be like two hundred years from now?  Two thousand?  At what point does technology have a diminishing return?  Some people are starting to question this. There is a small movement towards a less is more philosophy.  Is this just a fad or does it really have the power to transform our way of thinking in a global way?  These are the questions that always come up deep within the wilderness.  Questions that beg to inquire, are we really so advanced, or have we just made life more complex for ourselves.  Is simplicity merely a lifestyle choice or does our survival depend on it?  Time will tell.

As the sun goes down, I decide to make a small fire. More for ceremony than for warmth.  I gather wood and have the fire going in no time.  The burning cottonwood and juniper are sweet as incense.  The glow is warm and enchanting.  Dark now, the moon starts to rise, illuminating the canyon walls in front of me, though the moon itself is still hidden.  It will be full tonight. Stars begin to pop out.  First Venus, brightest star in the sky.  Soon I can make out six of the seven sisters of the Pleiades, directly above Venus.  Then, behind me, perfectly framed by the canyon walls, The Big Dipper.  Perfect.  I go for a walk.  Still barefoot on the soft sand.  A shooting star flies overhead. There is no sound.  Absolutely nothing at all.  And this happens everyday.  Year after year.  Decade after decade.  Millenia after millenia.  Time stops for a while as I feel my mortality, and immortality.  There is deep love in these canyons.  It radiates from all beings, living and non-living.  But how to tell the difference?  The moon is alive.  Very much alive.  As are the stars.  The rocks.  The flame of my campfire.  All living, breathing parts of this universe.  As am I.  So lucky to be a part of it all.

Later, much later, wrapped up in a warm blanket of love, peace, and goose down decadence, I let my little fire go out, fall asleep, and dream of shooting stars and faraway galaxies.

The next morning, I wake up to cold, pre-dawn silence.  Remembering the small pile of wood stacked next to my fire ring from last night, I crawl out of my bag and light myself a morning fire.  It comes to life, blazing with heat in no time.  Making tea, I watch the unfolding of a new morning.  The tops of the canyon walls start to glow with morning sunshine.  Slowly, the canyon fills with light, a process that takes over an hour to complete.  Sitting in silence, I watch this dazzling show of shadow and light from the warmth of my fire.  Today is the most perfect of mornings, sweetest time of the day.  When the sun finally reaches me, it forces me to stop writing in my journal.  I take off some layers and make breakfast.  The day has awakened and is now anxious to get underway.

 

 

Beneath The Surface: The Greater Canyonlands

Greater Canyonlands

Beneath The Surface: The Greater Canyonlands

The enormous expanse of Utah desert in that lies between Moab and Hanksville is THE most spectacular canyon country in the West.  Possibly the world.  After having traveled throughout the deserts of California, Arizona, and Nevada, I can now say that with total conviction.  Though all spectacular in their own right, there is simply nothing like the Greater Canyonlands of Utah.  It is truly God’s country.

There are very few people here.  Major cities are at least five hours away and tourism tends to center around Moab and Arches National Park.  The rest is mostly empty.  And here I am.  Camped close to the Angel trailhead.  The jump-off point for exploring the canyons around the Dirty Devil River WSA.  My canyon, Robbers Roost, which lies somewhere out there over the rim, a thousand feet below, will be my home for the next four or five days.

Solo is a time for reflection.  Time to reboot.  To step away from the “real world” as I know it and spend some time with God.  It’s a time to stop talking, stop thinking, and listen, really listen to the wisdom of source.  It’s a time for gratitude. For this life.  My family.  My friends.  This planet.  It’s a time for healing.  Both spiritual and physical.  It’s a time to simply walk, breathe deeply, and immerse myself in deep blissful silence.  Sure, it takes a few days for the mind chatter to stop.  But it always does.  Always at the perfect time.

Solo trips are where remember who I am.  That I’m much more than this body.  This face.  This name.  That there is more to life than all these little details in my mind.  That in the end, all these details will fall away.  And what will be left is this pure silence.  This pure light.  The same light I see in the eye of a lizard, the eye of a child, the cry of a raven, the rocks and the plants, the lakes and the streams, the sun, the moon, the clouds, and the stars.  We’re all in this together.  There is no separateness in the end.  No me, you, rock, bird, tree.  All of this I forget.  Over and over again I forget this truth.  But the desert is patient.  She reminds me again and again about the beauty.  The beauty of all of existence.

We’ve all had this experience at some point in our lives.  Whether in a church or a monastery, high on a mountain top, or gazing into a baby’s eye.  That experience when we stop thinking, even if just for a minute, and we suddenly know, absolutely know something to be true that we cannot put words to.  It is only then that we know truth.  Because when we try to put words to it.  Try to label it in some way, we are back to thinking again.  The moment is lost.  Knowing that truth is enough.  It’s enough just to know.  Not try to turn it into something.  Some “thing”, which it is not.

For me, this is my church.  The Greater Canyonlands of central Utah.  A place that resonates deeply with truth.  Tomorrow, I will travel deep beneath the surface of the Earth. To seek truth once again. . .

 

Fun is Awesome: Cedar Mesa, UT Part 5

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Fun Is Awesome: Cedar Mesa Part 5

As I awaken from my desert slumber, I realize now, that my decision is clear.  Rather than hike out the way that I came, I will continue down an unknown canyon, which should lead, hopefully leads, must lead out to the main road where I can hitch a ride 30 miles back to my truck.  Certainly the more adventurous route.  Certainly the one with more scenery.  And more scenery equals more fun.  Besides, I’m already 2 miles into this side canyon and turning around has never been a great option for me.  As I hike on, I realize that this side canyon is perhaps even more beautiful, more remote, more exquisite than the main one.  But I’ve seen more than I can possibly remember.  My dreams will surely be filled with swirling sandstone, cliff dwellings, and petroglyphs.  It all resides in my memory banks somewhere.  Memories like these are the ones that make up my life.  And the more I step out of my routine, the more memories I get.

I love creating my life.  A work of art in progress.  I have no regrets.  If I regret anything, it’s not doing more.  But I’m not done yet.  I’m 41 years old, almost 42, and I’ve lived a life beyond any dream or expectation I ever had as a child.  Perhaps this is because I never really had any expectations.  Except simply to have fun.  And fun is awesome!  Any time I have a decision to make, I base my decision on what would be the most fun.  He who has the most fun wins!  When I die, I want my eulogy to be this. . .”This guy knew how to have fun!  Here is what he did. . .”  The list would take over an hour to recite.  People would be smiling and laughing.  I hope it inspires them to go out and have some fun of their own.

Why should we ever stop having fun?  I plan to have fun until fun is no longer possible.  Then I will be ready to move on.  Turn in this body and see what is next.  How can it not be great?  Perhaps even greater than this life.  But until then, I plan to have as much fun as humanly possible.

See ya on down the trail. . .

 

 

The Canyon Speaks: Cedar Mesa Part 4

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The Canyon Speaks: Cedar Mesa Part 4

I move slowly, careful not to move a piece of pottery out of place.  I realize now, that I’m walking in a museum.  Everything is in its perfect place.  I, too, am part of the exhibit.  Modern day man.  We leave our footprints in the sand.  Our paths on the land.  Everything has its story.  Some millions of years old.  Some hundreds of years old.  Others just minutes.  More stories than could ever be told.  I keep coming back for more.

Saturday and Sunday were busy days on the trail.  I passed at least one person each day.  But today is Monday and the crowds are gone.  I have the place to myself once again.  It feels like the first day of true solo.  The typical longings and cravings have arrived.  It is getting dark.  A full moon on the rise.  The cravings subside and I feel nothing but calmness.  I’m lucky to be here.

“Don’t be one way, wishing for another.  Only to arrive at the new way, wishing for the first.”

These are the things that wash over my mind in places such as this.  Where do they come from?

Morning.  The sun creeps over the east canyon wall and wakes me from my slumber.  It’s late morning and I’ve slept in.  Instantly, I’m famished.  I move to the shade of my juniper, make tea and oatmeal, and listen to the sounds of the morning.  It is the sweetest time of day.

I’m three days into this canyon.  Middle of the trip.  Today I must decide whether  to head back the way I came or attempt to hike out a different canyon.  One that would require some route finding and a hitchhike 15 miles back to my car.  I most likely won’t decide this until my pack is strapped to my shoulders and take the first step.  A method that has served me well up until this point.  But first, I have more important things to do.  Like testing the walls for echoes.

I could stay out here for weeks, I tell myself.  If it weren’t for the allure of things such as cold draft beer in frosted pint glasses, burgers and fries, tacos.  I know these to be false promises.  Always leaving me longing for the next indulgement,.  The next fix.  An endless, maddening process.  But I allow them to lead me back to civilization anyhow.  There is no other way to be who I am.

In three days, I will leave this paradise of beauty and simplicity for a world of desire and temptation.  Perhaps because each world makes the other that much sweeter.

“Without work, can you really enjoy the play?”

“Without clouds, can you really enjoy the sun?”

“Without sound, can you really enjoy the silence?”

More profound thoughts.  Childlike, yet true.

Could I travel forever without longing for the comforts of home?

Doesn’t our mind always want something else?  We’re sad and we wish we were happy.  We’re hot and we wish we were cold.  We’re in one place and we wish we were in another.  Does our pain really come from our life situation, or does it come from our desire for something else?  Something else surely comes along soon enough, does it not?  Are we not running in circles, chasing our own tails?  Must we always be chasing the next “better moment”,  just around the corner?”  As fast as we try to run, can we ever get to the future?  Does it even exist?  Perhaps now is it.  Our lives unfolding right before our eyes.  Perhaps we just need to change focus.