The Deliberate Path of Gila Monster

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I dream of monsters. Reptiles who crawl into my slumber, I yearn for the teachings, for their company. Over the past month, I have seen an uncanny number of Gila monsters on my hikes. They’ve (almost mysteriously) appeared in my path and have sparked a curiosity in me to learn more about them.

The most obvious of reptiles, the Gila monster is one of the few lizards that are venomous. Of course, unlike rattlesnakes I have encountered, who are quick to strike, Gila monsters are meandering creatures. They are reluctant to interact and simply want to continue on their way. They are passive. You’d have to put your hand under their mouth to get them to attack, or else try to pick them up.

What I know of Gila monsters is that they want to get where they are going with a deliberate intention about them. They’re focused and intent, going about their business under the hot morning sun – a true desert soul.

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The Basics of the Gila Monster

The Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, is a venomous reptile who’s native to the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. They range in length between 10-14 inches and weigh approximately 4 pounds. Their distinct markings of orange (sometimes appearing pink or yellow) and black patterned beads (not scales) cannot be missed. One of the showiest of lizards, they are beautiful by all accounts.

Their bite contains a powerful neurotoxin that causes necrosis (death of the tissues) in the unfortunate victim. The quintessential hermit, they spend most of their time in burrows (95% of the year) and emerge only to warm themselves in the sun and seek out other species’ eggs, their primary diet. Because of their body composition (mostly fat), Gila monsters can live for a year on about 3-4 meals.

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Symbolism of Gila Monster

There is much mythology and folklore about the Gila monster. I don’t wish to get into these stories, however, since they are not mine to own. I also think we do a disservice to the species who appear before us with something to say by consulting Madame Esoteric’s Guide to Animal Totems, or what have you.

The patterns of the Gila monster are especially intriguing. There is no mistaking these creatures, with their blazed orange and black – maybe a warning to stay away from them. I gather, though, that they stand out because they are animals of authenticity. There is no denying who they are. They are their authentic selves.

This asks a question…Am I being my true nature, or do I throw up a facade? Can I be this real, bold, and authentic in my life?

Gila monster is a master of survival, an original preservationist, as they can go without food for months. This species presents the lesson of living life within one’s means, of conserving resources and energy, whether that be your time, emotional or mental health, or finances.

Am I guarding my health, resources, emotions? Or am I releasing them foolishly, without thought of the future?

This elusive monster spends the majority of their time underground. Guarded from the intensity of the summer months and possible predators, Gila monsters show us that going under is life-preserving. Burrowing beneath the earth, there is power in finding respite, a place to dream and emerge stronger. Gila monster tells us to pay attention to our dreams and to find shelter, whether it is within one’s body or the physical world.

In my own interpretation of the Gila monster, I am called to heed the warning of giving too freely of my resources. I should focus on my true nature and what I am called to do. To keep my decisions on a critical plane, where all options are before me.

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Walking with Gila monster is a call to watch my ass. Where am I in danger, or at risk of losing what I need to survive? It’s not a cry of paranoia, but one of good sense and self-protection.

I adore this amazing species, who has grown on me over the past few years. The Gila monster is an emblem of home, the Sonoran desert. A slow pace and careful judgement are how you survive in a tough terrain of limited food, water, and cool shelter. Gila monster is the god of true survival, where only those who are deliberate in action and purpose thrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghosts in the Camera and Lion Caves

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I wanted to show you photos and videos of today’s exploratory journey into the Goldfield Mountains – and specifically to Sunrise Arch. Alas, I came home and attempted to transfer my images off of the photo card to have something curious occur. They were wiped. Nada.

After having a small cry fit, I will tell you about my amazing morning in the rough-riding reaches of miner’s country.
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I got to the Bulldog Canyon OHV Trailhead about 7am, and meandered down the forest road, past RVers enjoying their primitive sites and fresh cups of coffee (or, in some cases, beer).

It was a brisk 52 degrees but sunny, and the flowers started to pop every which way, bejeweling the hills with the brightest golds and amethysts. It was quiet, without any ATVs along the way. I knew they’d be coming later that morning, but it was still too early for all of that nonsense. Gambel’s quails darted to and from palo verdes and five hungry coyotes were out on the prowl, looking for the cottontails who were also out in droves.

Spring in the desert is a good time for all. The cactus wrens warbled their songs and the distinct metallic chirps of thrashers resounded. Can there possibly be anything more welcoming than birdsong?

I was on my way to Dome Mountain, which appears in the distance from every direction. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, since I didn’t have a topo or my phone, and was relying heavily on memory of the maps I perused before leaving. One thing about the Goldfield Range is that it is hospitable for anyone who has the basics of navigating by compass and landmarks.

Overall, my recollection was pretty good, so I didn’t bother much with old mining roads or the few trails. Instead, I decided to wing-it. I had been walking for a few miles when I noticed some cairns off to a wash and along the side of a hill. To my surprise, it led to Sunrise Arch. A window to the world, or rather Saguaro Lake and the distant Mazatzals.

There were so many wildflowers…lupine, scorpionweed, blue dicks, poppies, woollystar, clover, salvia, various asters, and AYDLFs (another yellow daisy-like flower). I scrambled up to the peak above the arch and pirouetted around the 360 degree view of the Goldfields. I think I sang some Eagles while I was up there, and probably offended the local rodents. Why is it I get Eagles songs stuck in my head while hiking? I need a new soundtrack.

From there, I dropped down from the Arch and through a wash with deep pools of water from recent rains. Loads of flies, honeybees, dragonflies, and butterflies of all varieties floated alongside me as I hiked into a deeper cavern of polished rhyolite. That’s when I spied a possible cave in an adjoining canyon, hidden behind the ghost of a former stately saguaro.

Oooo, a cave. Should I explore? Of course!

The blasted out tuff formed an overhang, which was larger than I thought. Bat guano and owl pellets lined the floor and to the side, a bigger, deeper cave with a bed of dirt and debris that was obviously well used… Yes, home to a mountain lion (or two), its entrance covered in lion scat, some old and others disconcertingly recent. From another ledge under the cave, I sat and had my lunch and pondered lions, who also must look across the valley below the Orohai.

I thought to myself, “I am so lucky to have found this place, to be alive, eating peanut butter sandwiches while looking at mountain lion scat!” Really, this is my heaven.

The way back to the car was long and rocky. I found Deer Creek Tank, the result of efforts to encourage desert bighorn to stick around. No sightings of these much adored creatures, but I always look for them when I gaze up at the ridges and spires. I suspect they ventured into the Superstitions, displeased with all of the OHV use that cuts through this range. I would love for the Forest Service to shut down the off-roading access and leave it to hikers and horses. It’s such a special place, full of history, prehistoric and historic, and offers an array of geologic features and desert flora. ❤

On the way back, a kindly old man on an ATV made sure this Little Missy knew where I was and had enough water. He was a chagrined that I had been off trail and had a good knowledge of the layout after looking long and hard at topographic maps each night. Still, kindness goes a long way, and I was happy to chat with him about our mutual adventures.

What a day! What a life. There is nothing better than a spring day in the desert, complete with scat, tracks, and a whole lot of flowers. Too bad about the lost images, but at least I have all of the memories, and it just gives me more reason to go back and explore!

Happy tails and trails.

xo
Aleah

 

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New Poem: When I Start My Beginning with Water

When I Start My Beginning with Water

I dove but I cannot surface

I stay with the sea’s pull

though my mother’s face appears

between the glass of tourmaline

I know the earth is red agony

I want to be spared

So, I leave deeper, deeper

until the ache of the sea dissolves me

Keeping laughter in the depths

sorrow surfaces

No man brings his anchored goods

words that tear at my sister’s face

I want her to have this

wordless freedom of waves

The singing is my companion

but not my commitment

The wonder, not possession

just curiosity

Mother, if I could give you

this innocence, would you dive back

to the beginning, where we are set loose

into the sea, the call of our true names

New Poem: In Hindsight

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In Hindsight

Where you go,
the language of never
plunges into dust.

Beneath the sun,
a blind man’s eye,
we gather up words.

I expect miracles,
but the river runs backwards –
the coyote inhales its long song.

Who walks like this
for so long the veins
dry up into forgotten wells?

The bones bleach beneath skin
and the bored moon yawns
a miserable sigh.

Who you are –
the thorns that I must walk through,
a mirage, a tiny truth.

You said it was a hawk
that passed so close to us
that day.

But I know the truth
of those hours
and what we had to find.

When decay lingers,
it is stark but honest.
A beak drops its stone.

My fingers are skinned
from digging down to you.
Now I stop.

What we saw that day –
different between us –
a vulture, a hawk.

***

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Becoming Impatient, A Virtue

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Morrigan

I woke up angry again. The feeling of it scratched at my sheets and gnawed my arms, so that I had to leap out of the bed to get away from it. That feeling like steal wool against flesh.

Anger is not my normal state. My normal state is somewhere between here and Tijuana. My normal state is anxiety, the way you feel when you fall asleep behind the wheel for a few seconds and are on a hairpin curve. I can be cat-like, prone to scamper. But anger is something else for me.

Someone told me after I got sober that I have a lot of anger; that he has seen that side of me very few people know about. Repressed anger is something most alcoholics carry—especially women. In truth, all women. Our anger turns to sadness—overripe fruit set to pop its pulp and sicken the air.

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Demeter Mourning

I am not an angry person in that belligerent, obvious sort of way…Male anger. I think I am just impatient, knowing that everyone around me agrees that I need to be patient, but I am not in agreement. That’s the thing.

“If you are not angry, you’re not paying attention.” << My mantra when I was a twenty-something. “If you are angry, you are not living in gratitude,” I am reminded. As if gratitude is on the shelf all alone, as an urn with special cremains from angels.

No, I say. Anger and joy can co-inhabit. Gratitude and disdain, equally so. Gratitude MUST know the contents of my grief for me to even recognize the grace of being alive, the love that still remains. Gratitude respects a good sorrow.

We live in a world that is not set to stop for us to exhibit one thing or another in perfect order. Feeling states are not art exhibits, and rarely are they exclusive.

I’m waking up in anger because the world is not slowing down for me. Or for you.

It can be trite. I know I am growing older into middle-age womanhood. “You can still have kids?” “Why don’t you just focus on your career?” “Ever think about getting a job?” <<<Countless questions about being a 45 year old, childless, in recovery, poor woman writer.

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Durga

It pays to have women friends. I’m sure I’d be a lot angrier if I didn’t.

Holding this breath like a wish for desire only exasperates, and then the pace of one day to the next just doesn’t stop for anyone. How many things have happened over the past few months? Years? Did you expect them? Were you patient for them?

I am impatient. I don’t care for the scheme of things, and if I could raise the wild places out of their peril, the wild beings away from what is certain apocalypse, why would I choose patience?

If I could find that place I envision, the kindred partner, the freedom to roam, would I jump? Yes, I would.

There is the very real now versus the prospective future of waiting games and being patient. I choose to embody the now. And, maybe, just maybe that anger upon waking won’t make its appearance.

Shooting Stars in the Sierra Ancha

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I recently returned from an overnight trip to the Sierra Ancha. This is a range that is close to my heart, because it was one I visited briefly during my first trip to Arizona after being gone for nearly 15 years.

As my friend Ellen likes to say, this place is special, sacred. You can feel it when you are here. Something of the ethereal is close to the skin. No wonder there are many sightings of monsters and ghosts, of messages on the wind and in strange dreams beneath glowing stars.

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We arrived in late morning, so I decided to hike down Rose Creek. Little did I expect, I encountered a small female bear. I was as stunned as she was. I have a certain level of fear about bears; they seem so unpredictable. Their demeanor can quickly change from aloof to threatening, and within seconds.

The bear looked at me, then Lily, my 13 pound dog. I realized that the only way out was to back up since we were surrounded by thick, thorny berry bushes. Lifting Lily high, we eased away, watching the coal black eyes look back at us. Thankfully, we escaped safely through the berry corridor.

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Roaming the back roads is always a part of any adventure that I consider an adventure, and Ellen and I set off for Buzzard Roost Canyon the next day. Rocking through the boulders and slopes, and down, down, down into the mouth of the canyon, we went far away from any human activity. Spotting perfect primitive camp sites and canyon songbirds lifting off of the schist and gneiss, what else is there but this?

 

Lying awake at midnight in my tent, listening to the soft steps of skunks along the creek, I am here. The immensity of the night sky overwhelms me. I wish for one star to fall. Minutes later, the blaze and the descent.

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Water in the desert is precious, and to find a flowing creek in the Sonoran is a magical thing. After miles of climbing and bumping down forest roads, we were delighted to find Spring Creek by way of Jerky Butte.

Even a shallow swimming hole can relieve a tired, hot traveler. I am a longtime traveler.

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Waking up at sunrise, I hiked along a new road that leads to a development that’s in an in-holding of the national forest. The illuminated cliffs of the Sierra Ancha Mountains caught first light. Being in deep canyons feels like I am returning to the quiet, still place where my true self emerges. The light shines on these places, but it occurs one hour at a time.

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If you pay close attention on any walk, you will notice things. Small things that can make you wonder why you ever thought you were alone.

 


Fall is my favorite season, which feels like a mere two weeks in AZ. I do love the winter months here, but sometimes I miss those real two-three months of serious autumn that I experienced in Indiana. The kind that reminds me of the fall foliage of my birthplace, the sound of the wood stove’s cracks-and-pops, feeling chilly enough to put on an extra big flannel shirt when the sun sets, and that deep, pungent odor of decay.

I savor it when I am in the mountains.

 

As with any range, a person can spend an entire lifetime exploring and never fully get a complete picture of all of its secrets. And, isn’t that the point, really, to know that a place is composed of so much enchantment it is impossible to contain?

When the disciples asked Jesus when the new world will come, he replied, “What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it.” There is no outside heaven or planetary escape of tech fantasy. This is it. This is the kingdom.

I hope to continue to recognize it for years to come.

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Second Chances

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Second chances, I have had many. Whatever it is, call it God or the Universe, or the Everlasting Energy, has stopped the trajectory of my chaos, that endless comet of catastrophes, and set me back on the path I was meant to be on. Sometimes a bit bruised, sometimes dusty, but when it comes to second chances, I have had more than a few.

Yet, I continued to veer off course.

Some of us test the waters to the point of drowning, and find ourselves in the tide looking up at the stars, never knowing how it is that the tide always sends us back to safety. But sometimes it doesn’t. I know too many who never got a second chance, who just washed away into the distant welcoming deathtide.

When I was in the hospital last summer, it occurred to me that I may not have many chances left. Hitting 40, you realize that the romantic idea of dying young passed you by and here you are in middle age. No smoky car engulfed in flames. No overdose. No suicide penned in the name of lost love.

You begin to ponder all of the crazy neuroses and freak accidents that your younger self never considered, like dying in a horrible washing machine accident or being speared by a swordfish at Pike Place Market. Not so flippantly speaking, death ain’t all that great.

You start to covet your wrinkles and less-than-tight abs a little more. The things you did to bring down the lights seem cruel and petty. Who wants to go down like that?

Nth chances, I am well aware of. I live with a bit of death on my shoulder, just to keep me on my toes. And it isn’t about fearing death; it is just a healthy respect.

Self-destruction, I have put away that book and crawled out the window. When you know, viscerally so, that it can all end (and will) you come closer to life than you ever had before. We are creatures of intimacy. I forgot this for a long time, but it was there sleeping like Rip Van Winkle, and Life pulled me back up to see the stars.

And Love is my redemption.

Hallelujah: Why Established Artists Matter to Poor Kids

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It was 1994. I sat in my grandmother’s bedroom, comprising poems on her old typewriter. The one she used for decades. It was that year I would travel to see my favorite songwriters and artists, time spent on a road that was so unfamiliar to this rural Indiana native.

That summer, I met Leonard Cohen, Henry Rollins, Tori Amos, Nick Cave, and a host of other musicians whose music kept me hopeful that there was a way. A way out.

Not only were these artists meaningful to me, they actually found meaning in what someone – a 20 year old poet – had to say. I spent hours talking over coffee, dodging chaos when opening acts like the Beastie Boys usurped Cave’s more intellectual performance, and hounding after their gifts like the young do. I even had late night calls from some of them who wondered who the hell I was to reach out in such a less-than-adoring way.

As a 20 year old, what loss could I expect from this interest in idol gazing?

There were no idols for me in the cornfields. Nothing, at that time, occurred to me to be worse than what I existed with and through.

Egoless and wonder-filled, I made contact. I rode through storms and uncertainty to meet them – people I longed to be.

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It has been years since I have bothered riding tour buses, leaving comfort at the door to follow the lead of musical and poetic influences. Years, too, since I felt that same glistening, abundant hope that I could rise up from my status and be among them.

When Cohen died, it hit me – not the death, nor his honorable welcome to its touch. What struck me is that there is so much need for beacons among us. For those who take the time to call up the ones who are forgotten, to realize our deepest fears and noblest truths.

What gets you through is not what your experience is, past or present, but that which can be…like Diane Lawrence’s artwork for Cohen’s The Future album, the heart is guided by hummingbirds or handcuffs.

I wrote recently that I no longer believed in the value of hope. I take those words back.

So, thank you, Mister Cohen and all those who took the time to make my life bearable, believable, valuable. Our stories find the light, always.

There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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“Two or three things I know for sure, and one is that I’d rather go naked than wear the coat the world has made for me.”
― Dorothy Allison, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure

Over the course of my life, I have written extensively about my background. Candidly, unapologetically. Most of my readers know I am in recovery, grew up poor, and overcame a lot of trauma as a child…

I think the word we insist on using now is survivor.

And it is true; I am a survivor.

But here’s the thing, in an email conversation I was having recently with a wise woman, I discovered that this survivor label no longer serves me. In a way, it has limited me to always being the abused kid, the writer-alcoholic, the poor adult hopping from one near-miss tragedy to the next.

It seems that while survivor might be a badge of courage, it also assumes some basic things about a person, allocating him or her to a moment in time when surviving was the only goal.

And this isn’t even a post about thriving, although thriving is something most people aspire to, survivor or no. This is about the stories we tell ourselves, and in turn, the world.
Inadvertently, in all of my surviving, I forgot the other aspects of who I am and landed precisely in the middle of the narrative I created these last few years.

For example, how I ended up in Phoenix was not so surprising given the narrative of the life I was creating – preferring the wild fantasy to the facts. A survivor just goes with the pull of the tides, right? No. There was a deliberation of story, of belief.

But what would have happened had I done something else? Hmm.

What would have happened if the life I thought I loathed was just mirroring the story I kept creating rather than actual reality or what could have come to fruition?

I’d say any one of us is capable of re-writing a story in the moment – scrapping the old narrative when we find it going in a prescribed direction. Almost every decision we make is based on these stories, from work to romance; family to identity.

All of this has prompted me to JUST STOP TELLING THOSE DAMNED STORIES. Stop already.

Stop telling stories about being poor as shit, drunk as hell, and even…as much as it hurts me to leave her behind…lost and alone at age 10.

Because these stories aren’t where I live anymore, or what I live.

So expect something new from me in the coming months. Wildly, fervently, freeing-ly new… as I set pen to paper, and begin.

It Began Here…

It began here, my desire for this place. The course of its existence ran through me – an energy to move a woman 2,000 miles from the shores of Lake Ontario, the fierce shield of granite and water, to a place of obsidian and sky.

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Eight years ago, standing on the edge of old Route 66, I watched clouds pass across the cobalt. I could not remain in my old life. The hard edges of the city pushed me into these skies so vast. No amount of squinting could help me to discern what’s beyond the tall grasses and deep canyons. But I knew I had to find out.

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Soft definition is what I sought; a place where I could be as lucent as abandoned buildings, yet as full as the chambers of my heart.

To be filled with movement… I desired the poetry of pulse and breath.

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To come here meant I could fly into whatever scene I wanted; to be as mutable and impelling as the clouds drifting through the valley. I craved this story. And, the beautiful thing about story isn’t the story itself, but what you can leave out.

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I choose to erase

the details of

my desire for this place.

Some things need to move through. Across dry creeks and coyote tracks, there are only traces, and a place to pick up and start walking again.