Deer in the Desert: Scenes from the Sonoran and Beyond

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In the desert, everything awakens in autumn. I, too, feel my senses sharpen, my desire to leave the people world for the world of bewilderment. I am not to be found in the city on any given weekend, but prefer to spend my time traversing washes and slopes in search of new adventure. I become the kit fox that circles your campfire. I have a mind to run and roam, to kick up the dirt and steal some of your sanity, to lose my heart. Everything – from thistle to peak – burgeons, including my imagination and hunger for exploration and observation across the cooked basalt pavement and saguaro-laden ridges of my desert home.  This is a time of silence and recollection. There is something immensely sensual about the desert light in winter – the blues of a lover’s eyes and the painted doors of adobes – the pink hum of the mouth and tongue – the reds of embers and cool tiles – and the violets bursting through the robes of royals and the tapestries of a woman’s innermost thoughts. These colors keep me reeling in the beauty of what some people who have not experienced this home call stark. Austerity is a white walled room with no windows. Austerity is a false freedom we gobble up. There is nothing austere or dull about the desert… everything is in some form of changing light and shadow. Movement is slow but ever-present, and the landscape itself, comprised of grains and dispersed cholla, is alive with its shifting and yawning.

Lately, I have been perusing my photos from the past six years of living here in the Southwest. I feel compelled to share a sort of word journal and collage of imagination, of sites and sensual feasts, a poem to the land. Just by recollecting the moment my boots hit the entry point to a special wash or a hidden valley of water, I return. Perhaps this endeavor is also to share an intimacy of place with the reader who may never see or exist within the boundaries of this fevered land.

These are favorite moments, small time capsules and episodes of beauty that leave me forever related to this wild, immense dreamscape.

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Sunset on Babbitt Ranch, a place called Little Wild Bill… the air is starting to cool as I squint in the sun through the branches of alligator junipers. I look down to find a serrated projectile point, possibly archaic… antelopes run into my periphery, then into the horizon where something I want, an ache, awaits.

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A man walks out onto a granite lookout above Tonto Creek, near the Mogollon Rim. The black outline of rock and impending snow brings out the intensity of dark green and the hunger of deer. Who says Arizona is nothing but sand has never walked this place or seen the way a man’s shadow can look like a bird’s, like verdant hope.

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It’s July and the heat has settled into the concrete and breath of everything. I step outside to the perfume of queen of the night, those heavy moon-worshipers, illuminating asphalt, conversation and secrets. My collection of bones line the side of the house, a lovesong to death and the promise of something beyond this city, something creeping under highway metal and running towards home.

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Perry Mesa volunteer project … and down we go to the promise of an afternoon swim in the Verde River… the basalt boulders make for a wild ride as we ascend and descend, ridge after ridge. Beyond the clouds, the Mazatzals rise as stained purple tablecloths against this table of sand and time.

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Sometimes I need to drive. When everything collapses, there is the road and bad coffee, crows and absolution. Every night there are shots of whiskey and motels. What destination can find you when everything else has fallen into the sky?

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Recognition happens in a moment. I stand on an old tree stump, a cut for the coming tourist season. I look out at the river below and the climbing sacrosanct peaks of the La Platas. Snow still covers the northern slopes. The aspens are thick with their desire – those pale women stand together, afraid of being alone. I am only five minutes from my home, a little strawbale, but here is eternity and I want to become this place, these cold drifts and promises.

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This is a bad sign and I am an intruder… there are hexes and omens I ignore for a peek down into the trail. The turquoise water snakes its course, one thousand feet below. I could jump. I could be nothing. I leave but tempt the night with a quick look back, over my shoulder, to where people left for the journey of salt.

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There are times when the wild doesn’t want you. I arrive with my head full of questions, hellbent or perhaps just bent by the disease of being too much with the cacophony of hell. I did not leave it. I brought it to the top. I wave my arms and scream out from the gang of pines. There is no song for the impatient. I am a closed coffin of betrayal. The wild wants an opening.

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I am a little like coyote in my stone house with my curious eyes and smile that conceals. I am the dirt bath and the morning run through washes, behind carbon copied homes, threatening the babies of suburbia. I am not a friend. I may eat at your table and shit on your bed.

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Making fry bread and speaking of horses near Narbona Pass – this is the way to learn. There is always something to do or fix, but afternoons under the trees with my friends, laughing and preparing dinner… this is the work of women, the skirt of chance.

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There is fire. There is the immolation of this destiny. The woods will soon be gone. The animals have fled. I cannot help but stay with the anger until the ashes fall.

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I came here to know a peace. I came here to write the names of those who have come before, to gather or to bleed. I came to write poems but have been silenced many times. Already, the ravens are waiting, singing.

Unbound: A Modern Exile

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When the child was a child,
it awoke once in a strange bed,
and now does so again and again.
Many people, then, seemed beautiful,
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.

It had clearly imagined Paradise,
and now can at most guess,
could not conceive of nothingness,
and shudders today at the thought.
― Song of Childhood, Peter Handke

And for the first time, he wished he were far away. Lost in a deep, vast country where nobody knew him. Somewhere without language, or streets.
― Paris, Texas, screenplay by Sam Shepard

On October 1st, I will be forty years old. The imaginings of a linear life have left me disappointed… the hands, the work, the “deal” – none of it mattered to me. I wandered through a variety of lifestyles, always feeling empty and restless. Restlessness seemed to be the precursor to my entire life – nothing can compare to the daydreams of a ten year old. There would be no sultry saviors, no absolution and no erasing the names. There would be a tapestry of longing and a growing compassion for process.

red-lipstick-fearRecently, I made the decision to be truly honest in my decisions. I have written extensively on the subject of work, place and self-awareness. I have a fascination with those whose approach to life smashes barriers. In my twenties, I revolted against femininity and modern capitalism. I squatted in abandoned homes, I jumped tracks and I traveled with an unabashed, caustic personality that drove me to places I never thought I would see. I didn’t participate in the traditional life. I hoofed it with fellow wanderers and freaks. I saw to it that I would never, ever be owned or trapped.

During this time, I explored the trends of body and spirit dualism, eating disorders and body image. I exploited every revolting aspect of the flesh in hopes of making them beautiful. I danced and tripped on mushrooms. I would go without bathing or combing my hair. I pushed for a love of flesh – in its complete glory and eventual decay – because I did not know how to love my own mortal shell. I thought that salvation, or revolution, was found in the intersection of love and physicality. I wanted to be in my skin – lovely and horrible, yet completely body-authentic.

Throughout my thirties, I developed an interest in authenticity as commodity and trend. Authenticity became the battle cry of marketing firms and big brands. The migration from body wisdom to authentic identity of personhood was troubling; mainly because of the way the mainstream embraced the concept. The collective consciousness of Gen X was quickly and quietly overtaken by a new promise of being both successful and authentic. More people, particularly young people, embraced their weird uniqueness and eccentricities, and that was wonderful in many regards. However, this co-opted form of authenticity remained sophomoric and typically American. “I have a right to be me” became the empty shell of egocentric pursuits and isolation. More niche and fringe groups formed based on limited cogent forces – the individual became a composite of type. When a question was posed, the individual could simply fall back on adolescence, “You just don’t understand me!” Me went off the charts. Me denominated the market and continues to do so.

“Remember the quiet wonders. The world has more need of them than it has for warriors.”
― Moonheart, Charles de Lint

What would it be like to lose one’s identity? The movie Paris, Texas (screenplay by Sam Shepard) illustrates the need for an endless terrain and a loss of identity. The main character, Travis Henderson, becomes drawn to “forgetting” and being unknown in an unknown land, simply slipping the realities of tragedy, loss and addiction, TravisimagesCAX2CIXT makes his way home only to choose to return to the land of unknown – the power of movement, following the crack-snap song of power lines that cut through otherwise desolate country.

Tragedy, however, need not be the only impetus for losing oneself to the world. Shamans, prophets and wisdom keepers tread the path of the unknown, the lost one. In shedding former identity, an understanding of place can be attained. One can transcend human boundaries, hearing the songs of crickets and owls and wearing the night like a coat that cannot be slipped. The wanderer becomes small yet great in smallness, silenced yet wise in the vacuum.

Personas can be shifted. Over the past few months, I have considered the random and unsuitable personas I have worn over the years. My general dissatisfaction with a monetary based system has also been a pinnacle factor in my desire to shift from laborer to vagabond. Perhaps persona is a modern development, a modern affliction. Did early man consider his uniqueness? Did he cultivate a collection of property or skills that helped him become alpha, popular and accepted?

There is a connection to the dog-order of humans and other pack animals. Somewhere along the evolutionary process, this aberration of self was developed in order to secure … well, security. With exaggerated limbs and features, bigger-faster-smarter, we rose and challenged. We amended. We edited. We made over and dominated in a pernicious quest for immortality.

Troubling Uniqueness

You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?
You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
You may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?

― Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads

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The paradox of the fascination with uniqueness is that it is made moot by context. How are we unique if not in the reflection of a communal norm? There would be no uniqueness without a benchmark. We are never separate, individual. There would be no concept of identity if we had no place within a larger social order. That is why the most isolated of tribes or individuals have a rich dreamscape that has not been eradicated by comparison.  In these worlds, plants become as alive as humans. Stones tell stories. Garbage is sacred. It is a mad world that invites weeds to the storyline.

Since the original concepts of loss of identity and regaining of self have nothing to do with pandering to a value based system, we as a culture have little regard for or understanding of those who move beyond what is acceptable. For example, the unique worldview of a person deeply entrenched in paranoid schizophrenia – without being medicated – perhaps represents the purest form of authenticity. The mentally ill and their schematics and dreamlands create fear and order in a tunnel almost devoid of common experience.

There has been much research on the subject of self and mental illness as well as self and shamanism. In this paradigm, there is room for all forms of perception and reality.

To jump off into cholla with dreams of remaining unharmed…

To climb the slick rock and see antelopes dancing in the shadows of light descending…

To know the names of every plant and rock… to call them when you are alone and need life to follow.

My life is changing. Nothing seems fixed as such – and in this shape-shifting, fluid state, I worry less about my life and my purpose. There is a dignity of ignorance I seek. You see, the unchanged world of beliefs and personas is an unforgiving one. In this static state, you are sick or well, pure or rotten. There is a collective desire to find Elysium in the status quo and the illusion of authenticity.

I don’t want to be clear; I want to be knee-deep and murky. I want to wade out when the songs of the sirens bellow across the turquoise. There is beauty in dissolution and chaos. Nature adores the ever-changing and amorphous. There is no regret in simply living without having one solid version of life and the beyond. Perhaps it is not for us to know. Perhaps being an animal among field songs and flight is a very good life, indeed.

Returning II

the way the crow fliesReverie and Acceptance

“To lose one’s self in reverie, one must be either very happy, or very unhappy. Reverie is the child of extremes.” ~ Antoine Rivarol

There is room in me now. Anything can take root. My life on the surface is as wide as a mesa, as empty as a forgotten cave, beneath debris and branches. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something must enter in. Where there was a home, a man – I fill these places with memories as verdant as leaves in a wet summer. There are moments I crave in my bones. Those moments I see behind your eyes – laughing on a blanket, the polished cow skulls and hot red dust.  Moments that comfort me – nestled under a metal roof as the storms of the summer rolled over us and the fire of our beginning was consuming, promising.

But I am just the red flame of wish now.

I see trains – I long for their miles of going everywhere and nowhere in particular. I read of the wilderness I have yet to visit and plan my exodus into a world that neither welcomes nor opposes my presence. I simply become a part of that world. Truthfully, that realization scares me. The wilderness cares little for my memories.

So I walk with them for now. The taste of coffee – the snowdrifts and my grandfather’s plaid jacket, where he stashed a day’s supply of tobacco. Stories told between the dusk and dawn by people with hushed voices and warm laps. I will never know them, just as they will never know me. My life is an amalgam of place and the senses. It is less purposeful than it is full of feeling. I want to rise to the surface of all of the things, these illusions. I want to wrap myself in the warmth of their promise, because it was in that promise, I felt most wanted. The future place was where I belonged, never quite fixed in the now.

In memory, there are copper bells hanging from an ocotillo. I catch lizards in the Sonoran Desert. Here, there is another new city – its Chinatown chatter and rumbling streetcars. There is the first time making love to him, and the ones to follow. There is the sound of teenagers smashing thin bodies onto still water, boulders of limestone enclosing us. And here, a young self holds a cat in her arms, dreaming of anything to take her away from home, from suffering.

These internal journeys take me away from the intense cravings for liquor, the stress of bills that continue to pile up, the death all around as age comes to friends and family. These journeys are my church of lessons, symbols of my prayers to the holy hereafter. The hawks and ravens show up just as I look to the pines. I watch the fearlessness of the lion and the freedom of wolves; the adaptability of the coyote running through alleyways into the ‘burbs.

I watch the acceptance of wild things, the deep integration into the land and life itself. I wish I could be so accepting. My resistance to accept that there are disappointments and horrors nestled and entwined in the beauty of those memories fuels my reverie. I cut out the weeds. I pick apart the skeletons and keep only what I want, the polished bones I can adorn with jewels. I can keep them as treasures.  My reverie is my way of being on the horizon of the next day. Never here. Never now.steps

Alcoholism crippled my ability to handle life in the present. Growing up in poverty and secrets, I learned to keep my eyes fixed on the West. I knew something wonderful was out there, just beyond what I could grasp… but soon life would be better, safer. In the midst of my disease, I learned to create my own secrets and covet memory. It was safer to believe that I had things under control, that there was love, there was magic. But, truthfully, it was a fragile illusion waiting for anything to splinter the image. Through my drinking years, I married twice. I traveled often. I lived in multiple cities, still holding on to that child-thought that I could be something else, somewhere else. 

No place changed me. I just continued to spiral downward into the grip of my dreams. I wanted to just wake up on the mesa and become a part of what I believed was soul-desolation. I saw myself being carried off on the back of a wild horse, the crescent moon cutting patterns into the indigo. I saw the man I loved – rooted into juniper branches, becoming the breath coming into my lungs – the long exhalation of everything I held on to in my stomach. The tiring ache of years spent hoping for happiness.

Part of coming into truth required me to lift the lace that was draped over the lens. I had to come to know how I ended up here, what I lived through, what disasters were of my own making. I had to let go of the child who waited for something to come and rescue her.

Arriving to self… There is pain and promise in this process of releasing memory to reality. It is a dangerous game to play with life and madness – to hold up one’s cup to be filled by anything and anyone. Some die. Some never return from the other side of reality. Learning to live with acceptance requires leaving a life of memory and reverie in search of today. Meaning takes on the full expression of what needs to be done now. One learns to kiss those darlings of the past goodbye and welcome in a new day.

There is room in me now. I want to be careful about what takes root. In allowing everything to be as it is, I am not denying that young self’s daydreams of wonder, adventure, happiness… I am simply acknowledging that not all of it will be beautiful. I am learning to be with the pain, too. I am learning to love the balance of chaos and contentment. I don’t need to be anywhere else but here.

Survival Games

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Last night, on my way across the concrete sprawl of Central Phoenix, I encountered a scene straight out of some 1940s dystopic novel. The sky lit into an orange-black mass where funnels of smoke formed and people wandered around bus stops in 115 degrees, waiting for the bus… maybe just waiting. Sirens and helicopters stabbed at any kind of silence and bled into white noise. The streets were dirty. It was a mess. I watched the slow motion surrealism at the intersection in my jeep – now without air conditioning – waiting (and sweating) for the light to change and I could once again be moving through.

For someone who loves being in the stillness and retreat of nature, this scene is jarring. It occurred to me, in the cacophony and chaos, that there are very few of us who are willing and able to leave the noise and crowds for an experience to know ourselves without familiar surroundings and many distractions. Babies scream. Dogs are left in backyards to bark through day and night. Traffic hums. The heat here even seems to make some kind of sound – the exhaustion of overworked air conditioners, the muted phone conversations of people hermetically sealed in their air-conditioned sedans.

The noise is almost like a cover for a deepen truth none of us are willing to face. Could it be we have lost our innate senses? Have we stopped listening to the wind? Do we know what our skin feels like in July or how certain places contain intense magic and mystery? Do we run from intuition?

At the office, fear dominates. We fear not getting enough or getting more than we can handle. We fear getting laid off – the next best employee scooping our promotion. This fear stays tantamount to our misery. It has its own sound: in rumbling, upset guts, in whispered gossip, in our hearts constricting under high blood pressure and lethargy-borne diseases.

At home, we talk on phones at imaginary connections. When not on our phones, we blast TVs from two rooms away, play music… distract ourselves online. Then we drop into bed with the weight of insomnia and too few hours of sleep to hit the repeat button the next day.

In love, we seek the tide of desire. We escape into the flower-blood romance – the pulsating glow of sighs and cars. We sell ourselves to marriage, to encounters, to sexual fears so spoiled in their claustrophobic expressions we do not even begin to know them.

“What do you want…really,” I ask.
Inside, I turn answers of my own around some imaginary playground where children, the children I – maybe – someday – want – sing their child songs.
I turn lovers into fables. I make myths of men – their diamond promises and vampire kiss.
In the heart of Phoenix, I believe I am always leaving on one of the planes flying in and out of here.

Outside, the lights of the city blot out the star-scape. I wish for one night of darkness. I watch my neighbors walk their dogs. It is late and the desperate voices talk over dinner… hushed, wondering….

Let’s get away, I whisper.

Temporary Shelters

Memories make us. They are our stories. They make real out of shadow.

Memory is not static, however, nor is it benevolent. It is both our greatest ally and our most nefarious foe. Memory deludes moment. It demands adherence, obedience… it demands answers as to why any thing, any human dare challenge its peaceful dreaming. It makes you believe it is alert, watching, ready to leap into life – but it falters – careens cars, emits screams, threatens.

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Memory is a doe on a summer day, behind twigs, camouflaged. And how we want to believe it is only there, sleeping… not ready, waiting for danger.

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When a loss occurs, memory stumbles.  The doe leaps. You can call after her, but she has no allegiance. She has only the dream and the dream’s urge for preservation.

Behind the dream, flames rise. Fire and impending loss – the arc of disappearance, the knucklebone exposure of stone.

I am a small animal. I become animal as the flames climb my mountain home. I claw and scratch against the man I love. I watch love perish. I watch everything perish. I try to hold. I try.

How quickly stone loses its embodying life, endures the burn. It holds on to nothing.

Stone releases, not because it chooses to release, but because it has no choice. It simply Is. It Is – it has no choice but to acquiesce. I have no choice but to watch the memory deer flee from the stone, the root, from me.

How do we speak here? I walk beneath the full moon and the field shines. The exposure is ghostly yet beautiful. There are no answers to our larger, human questions. But is it not beautiful?

How do we feel now? In restless sleep, in animal tongue and waning moon. I have lost my dreams. I no longer dream. I am the fresh air, the whisper.

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Years will go by and the wild will return to stone. Life returns. New stories will be told – of wild canyon, of love growing between animals: anew, ablaze,

rising from dry bed and ash, calling itself home.

Solitude: Not a Love Story

Over the past year, I have developed a keen interest in literature that speaks to the topic of solitude. Being married to an archaeologist and also being an introvert has given me ample space for quiet contemplation. Summer 2011 was spent exploring much of the northern half of Arizona, often in an attempt to escape the 115 degree summer days Phoenix so nefariously offers. Since my schedule was spent managing various contracts, I found myself with odd patches of mid-week travel time when companions couldn’t join me in my travels. Suffice all of this to say, I was alone often.

If you have read any of the trendy solitude books and themed blogs, you will find that they – for the most part – present solitude in two phases. The first is the comedic realization of solitude ( ie the city to country transition, the odd encounters with new places and people, the wilderness snafus or wildlife bandits, etc.) and the second, and perhaps conclusion to the former, is the phase that I am going to focus on which presently has me stumped, the grand, sweeping, Muir moments of divine connection to self and place. And, to dredge up show tunes, how they present themselves “in the most delightful way”.

I would like to think, in my own bumbling, flawed manner,  I, too, shall one day be singing show tunes and having Muir visit me in epiphanies in cabins on mountaintops. But my foray with solitude has been anything but pretty. Powerful? Yes. Challenging? Yes. But not necessarily peaceful in its starts and stops. And not ideal in process or results.

Each excursion into the forests and canyons has been met with mental la brugas: the mean medicine, fairy tales, nightmares, and – perhaps an adult’s biggest enemy – memories. Never the quiet easement into aloneness, my journeys have felt like  immediate emotional landslides, long tumbles into the crevice of habit and heartbreak where skeletons bang around the edges of experience, demanding, always demanding…

The fact is: solitude includes time with me, myself, the awful “I”. No people are needed. These aspects of self crowd in and gaze, point, cry, scream and sometimes sit silently, waiting for me to get comfortable with some space or sense, then emerge strong, demanding… They are, in fact, the crowds I thought I was escaping by leaving known territory and venturing into solitude.

Where was the beautiful transition into peace?

Where were the epiphanies with Muir and Thoreau singing in my ear, those buddies in isolation and nature?

Rather than finding a voice or having a creative experience, I simply witnessed the beauty around me, moved a lot, and avoided the internal dialogue and chaos as much as possible. The more chaotic, the more demanding the internal became, in fact, the more determined I was to drown it out. “I am here to be HERE, dammit! Go away!” But the internal crowding continued, despite intense hiking, a six-pack, or thunderstorm, the demands kept coming until I was so exhausted from my own company, I had to get away from myself.

To the city. Ah, the city… where so many distractions simply overwhelmed that damn internal group of hangers-on. To the city, where I pretended my solitude experiences were meaningful in some way. Until now.

What occurs to me most about solitude and experiencing solitude is that there is a vast difference between selective solitude – often taken in timely chunks – and imposed or accidental solitude, often not intentional or purposeful but more sustained and sincere. Creating solitude is theatre. Imposed solitude is truly where the proverbial rubber meets the road. In its extreme form, we might imagine jail time or a POW camp. Thankfully, I have not experienced either of those forms of solitude where solitude is but one of many concerns. Solitude might include months of work abroad, or moving to a new place without a companion. This was how my less-than-intentional isolation came into being.

Recently I relocated to a small town in the far southwest corner of Colorado, near Mesa Verde (a beautiful area of canyons, high desert, green pastures and mountains). I was offered a stellar job with a wonderful small business. I accepted. I knew, given the fact that both my husband John and I have careers and a home in Phoenix, there would be an extended period of separation until he found a job and a tenant or buyer (whichever came first, and neither particularly easy). I arrived in Colorado as a baby bird out of the nest, meeting the ground with a hard thud… a little gnarly and featherless, but ready to move on. Somehow I held hope that – magic thinking, mind you – John would arrive soon after. Both John and I have been wanting out of Phoenix for a while now, so the move was what we envisioned for the future, but certainly not seemless in its execution.

As a wanderer, I have had experiences with solo travel and even moving to new lands. However, I don’t think I had emotionally prepared for being a stranger in a strange land again, and no longer in my fearless twenties.  I have one of those personalities that make me shy with those I should feel most comfortable, and comfortable with total strangers, ramblers like me. It didn’t take me long to make conversation with the eccentric locals, but at day’s end I was quick to crawl back into my den and ponder the fact that my husband would be away for weeks and no friends were near enough to fill my time. Every little household problem became monstrous (funny, how one gets used to having another to share household trouble-shooting with) and the nights loomed long and quiet.

So here I sat in a new house. In a new town. With no identity other than the one I claim and believe exists.

Enter in the host of goblins, the mischief makers of memory and habit… My idea of solitude always included the space and creative energy for writing, painting… you know, all of the things we try to make room for but cannot because we work like crazy Americans. So when I am gifted temporary solitude (not of my choosing entirely), what happens? I clean. I worry. I make lists of tedious tedium only the most compulsive among us would appreciate, let alone enjoy. Out come the jerks of my own creation: anxiety, what if scenarios, paranoid ideas about the things that could happen. An awful word: could.

Yes, I longed for those romantic evening writing fests, the wind softly blowing and the moon glowing through the cracked curtains, or philosophizing at a clear lake with a journal and the sound of owls in the distance. Yes, I longed for creativity to sieve itself out of my heart, brain or soul, depending on one’s definition, and work its magic.

But what I got was paralyzing self-examination and litanies of fear statements. When my brain got tired of these, I was left with an exhaustion so enormous I could have slept for days. Sometimes I did. And, then, the remarkable part: something transpired that makes me feel OK… safe, even. And then, a little more… until – yes, yes – there it is! I am a bit happy. I find my feet. I find others. I leave solitude behind in its eternal cancer ward. I return to the previous state of movement and occupied mental state – the interruptions, the calls, the family responsibilities – but a little more appreciative, self-aware, and … determined to forgo the need to push out the world to know what lies within.

I have always known I have tremendous strength. I have felt and used my tenacity many times in horrible places, where isolation was no option of my choosing. I don’t need Muir to point out the strength of spirit that is possible. What I did lack, however, was the awareness that happiness cannot be found chasing solitary confinement in some literary fantasy of such. No. Happiness is a product of familiarity, something I never would have wanted to believe, but continue to find its truth. Solitude is simply a byproduct of being alive. We endure it, we may even harness its energy at times, but to be happy is to leave the goblins of what ifs of our own internal drama and to remove our gaze from navel – to gaze deeply into the world.

Returning Home

ImageI confess: when I am not out finding some new uninhabited place to become entangled, wide-eyed, and inspired, I am often at home… CLEANING. Yes, I just used the dreaded “c” word for which many woods-women like me try to avoid. But I do like to clean. Being a fine balance between nest-er and nomad, I find the ritual component of sweeping an old broom across the kitchen, wiping away layers of Sonoran desert sand and dust from the dressers, and folding freshly washed towels strangely satisfying.

I have often grappled with these disparate feelings — the urge to run unabashedly unorganized, hair and limbs akimbo, and my drive to be neat and orderly.  As much as I dislike packing all of my camping gear and checking things off a list, I get a good deal of contentment from putting it all back in place after dragging in, achy and full of grand adventures tracking wildlife or trying out a new trail.  Much like my time spent boondocking hither and yonder; there is a regaining of creative energy I experience while in the throes of my annual spring purge. I paint new colors over scuffed, white walls, combine vintage linens with French lace, bring out seasonal items that call to mind metaphor, symbolism, and the rituals of the ever-changing earth. I surround myself with the breeze of new March warmth coming through the screens and filling my nostrils with blooming orange blossoms. Indeed, this is a creative moment, a powerful opportunity to honor space, place, home, and even journeys to our favorite wildlands, as it is always in coming home that our journey most deeply resonates.

Cleaning is a nurturing act for others, but has deeper roots in self-love. Cleaning perhaps takes its most ardent form when in the cleaning, transforming, and healing of body, of self. A lot can be said of a person’s self-worth and awareness simply by the capacity for pleasure (or disdain) felt when tending to the changing of bed linens, the scrubbing of the bath, the gentle hand washing of delicate garments, and the details added to enhance the experience (soft lights, natural scents, herbal soaps). Whether one chooses this path of loving care or opts for harsh cleaners, deodorants, tweezers, and antiseptic sprays, much can be conveyed in our simple, daily chores. Again, where there is an opportunity for silent, aware, loving nurturing, there is ritual and a chance to return to our most beloved, natural selves.

Often while in the wild you will find me with a very clean camp, a tidy tent, and everything in its place. There are some valuable reasons why one should keep a clean camp – avoiding other critters interested in a free meal, for starters – and to practice Leave No Trace principles, ensuring minimal impact on the land. For me, it is more. I find home wherever I am. In my tent, I often have a few photos of loved ones, a focal point of meditation or symbolism, such as a piece of obsidian, my journals, and a good reading light. Home is where I am at the time. Home becomes the Gila Wilderness for the night, while camped next to an elk-worthy meadow. Home is Wet Beaver Creek and the cool plunge on a hot summer day, hammock in tow. Home is the back of my jeep while traveling through the Painted Desert, chasing the last crow to be lit by the purple and final light of the sun. Home is where I am from, yes. Home is where I happen to be right now.

Neatness may seem like a matter of inconsequence without further inspection. But the care and love we feel when tending to the ground beneath our feet, our surroundings, the objects and collections, and our own earthly body just may be an accurate gauge as to how we treat the earth, the wild home of other animals, of other cultures, of the unknown. In this knowledge and awareness, being home is always one’s state of being. And as Dorothy says, “There’s no place like it!”