To be mad as a hornet. To be at the boiling point. Hot. Seeing red. Anger is so poetically expressed that it is a gut-punch to see and feel it. It can burn with the hottest lava and remain for days among tumbled embers.
They say that anger is actually fear. It’s suppressed fear over something, at some level, that manifests as anger. Usually it triggers our feelings of lack of control. It disrupts our security. There is always a perceived threat that lies beneath the surface of anger’s object.
I woke up yesterday to its small flames under my pillow. This little flickering friend likes to ignite each day. Sometimes it waits patiently for midday; other times, when it is especially cruel, just as I am about to sleep. It’s there, and I don’t like its presence.
I have tried to rival it with logic.
Love has tried its best to hold the anger, tight as a fist wrapped in metal.
God has been asked to enter in and sweep it out onto the street.
Yes, I have asked my friends how to expel it. There good words of wisdom, I have tried, but it remains.
Now, I walk with it uncomfortably.
Each day I start my practice. I get out my list. I name the pain, the fear, how it still hurts. I call it into being and I give it my own name, my part. I hurt myself in the absence of the offender.
It’s an old wound, this anger.
Like a friend, I must ask its true name. What is it I need to face? If it is something to be changed, I ask for the willingness to change. If it is something that is outside of my control, I ask for the ability to let go.
It’s practice. Anything hard takes practice and a simplicity of repeating steps. I’m not sure when the anger will be lifted. It will, though, eventually. It reminds me that pain, like pleasure, is fleeting. But when the pain is self-made, the first realization must be one of choice. Do I let loose this small dragon, or do I continue to stroke it?
Today I am choosing to let it loose. I always have the option to pick it up tomorrow. For my serenity and recovery, I hope not.
“We are a landscape of all we have seen.”
– Isamu Noguchi
There are particular landscapes that stand out in the recesses of memory. Driving down the I17 for the first time and seeing the Sonoran desert come into view…the saguaros, the palo verdes, and brittlebush, and realizing I would live there some day. The wide fields and hollows of soybeans, horses, and oaks are the places of my youth. The steep granite cliffs lining river gorges and pine bring to mind my days in the north woods. And now, I walk among volcanic rock, crumbling welded tuff and ash, a blaze of sunlight lining the cliffs at first light.
Place is the indicator of safety, and that familiarity of place soothes the fearful animal.
I’ve always felt the flora and geology to be family, places I could gather and listen to ancient stories about how to live in a manner this culture contradicts. To this day, I take my knowledge from the elder trees and the mentor species. There is never a moment I feel isolated from being a part of, because I am so intricately a part of them.
Friends, too, share this passion for landscape. Their backyards consist not just of green grass to mow or a small garden plot to tend but the unruly weeds and beetles. Many have the privilege of living in a wilder terrain where they can hike at will and never see the same path. Fellow explorers spend their time wandering the Southwest, uncovering their unknown history, writing up bones of forgotten days.
When I walk a new landscape, I prefer to walk it alone. Like meeting a new friend, I must respect this space and listen intently. The phainopepla reminds me to honor the new day. A quick “qui-qui” shout from a familiar friend, the thrasher, tells me to watch my footing. It’s nearing spring, and after heavy rains the wildflowers abound – the most obvious call to renew, readjust, and most importantly, stop being so serious.
The most meaningful lesson is that the earth is not here to provide lessons, or to owe me a thing. It is not an object of worship, a peak to “bag”, my mother, or my playground.
While I may glean from place deep lessons and gifts, it is my duty to know my place as an animal among animals, and to live life as not to disrupt this reality. I am called to be a fierce daughter of one loyalty. It is to the saguaro I bow, the lion, the rock, the soil. I am called to be a protector of place, when called, but not the instigator of outcome.
To know one’s place in the most meaningful sense is to be humble. My nameless journey, I am here to serve.
Recently I came face to face with failure. It didn’t seem like such a big deal because it had to do with a hike. I have headed back on a trail without finishing before, but this was something I was determined to accomplish…and didn’t.
On Saturday I set out to hike Picketpost Mtn on the Tonto National Forest, close to Superior, AZ. Those who are familiar with this hike know that it is a hard one, mostly because you have to rock scramble on loose, crumbly rock and steep terrain. I was woefully unprepared.
Loaded up with water, my camera, lenses, and lacking the right shoes to keep a grip on the boulders, I set out on the trail. I’m used to quick elevation climbs at this point, so the gain wasn’t causing me any issues. I thought, this must be why so many people turn back, because of the steep climb. Who knew? As I climbed, the views became more dramatic and expansive. The weather swirled in the distance and the wind swept the desert scrub and tiny wildflowers.
I stopped at several key points to take some photos and realized that I had too much weight on my pack to be balanced. I had to be especially careful not to slip and to move my weight from back to front, as not to pull myself backwards.
Why did I want to do this hike on an impulse? I knew that it was a challenge and I have known a few of my friends to do it, but it was much more than that.
I wanted to set out to find some reserve within myself to make me feel good enough again.
Again? Have I ever?
There are times in my life that I have felt on top of the game – what game – the game of feeling better than or at least equal to. Mostly, I have always felt like I never measured up and related to anyone, like I missed the instructions that allow me to finish things with confidence and success as I saw my peers do.
I’m what you might call a Jill of All Trades. I am just okay enough to do many things, but never that superstar that gets kudos. As I get older, I don’t get the attention I used to get from men, and the women I know are so wrapped up in trying to work and raise kids, few of us can do that bonding to help bolster each other up.
We all struggle with feeling like we’re lacking something. The hole of the soul we might fill with the thrill of the chase, alcohol or drugs, a winning streak, that final triumph of a pursuit that goes well. Now that I am sober, who or what can fill that eternal void of the restless soul? What can define me?
These are the questions of an unprepared woman looking for answers.
On the nasty precipice of that mountain, I had a fast fall when my footing gave way to loose rock.
I slid down quickly.
It all happened and I had NO control. Gravity did her job.
My blessing was a strong Manzanita tree who cradled me, cut and bruised, but still intact. I was able to gather my wits and crab-crawl my way to a safer bench.
You would think I would have thrown in the towel after that, but no. I climbed and tripped, cried and inched my way up and away into the setting clouds until I could no longer take it. I was hurting and scared. The storm was coming in and dark would soon be upon me, and there was no way I wanted to navigate that mountain in the darkness.
I came back down to the ground without completing the climb.
I am still disappointed, but I realized some lessons through all of this.
Failing means you actually are doing something that challenges you. I am willing to take a risk.
Stubborn pride and unrelenting ego are formidable foes. Being humble is being teachable.
My worth is only defined by me. What you think of me is none of my business, nor should it be.
If I act as if I am someone who is already whole, I am. What a paradox! Thinking about the ways I am not *there yet* only result in mental gymnastics. My actions change my thoughts.
If it isn’t required and doesn’t bring me joy, don’t do it. Life is full of necessary pains, so why add to it? Have some fun.
And, on that note, I bought myself some fun socks:
I spent a lazy Sunday wandering through White Canyon Wilderness, a hidden heaven not too far from Phoenix. No goal. No fitness hike. Just a lot of puffy clouds, silence, and the chance to soak in another beautiful view.
The best part of slowing down is taking the time to notice what you don’t when you are keeping pace on a long hike.
Small flowers, delicate blades of native grass, unusual markings etched among rock, moss, and lichen, a hidden petroglyph…these are the findings that can only emerge into vision in idleness.
I am taking the time to find God in small things. Her beauty is in the intricacies and eloquence of the understated and unnoticed.
I find myself sitting on my bed today ugly-crying while listening to a Don Henley tune. You know things are bad when you pull out every loser song you can think of to drown your sorrows in the finest pop of the 1980/90s.
Broken hearts. They suck, don’t they?
My expectations got a little grand over something that wasn’t real. It probably never was real, but being a fanciful creative, I thought it was. This is why magic can get in the way. I was talking to my dogs about what a great life they have not having to worry about crushes and broken hearts, confusion and angsty lust. They seem to be so contented, why would they bother to delve into the disgusting world of modern romance? Why do I continue to do it!
It’s ok, I say to myself. Everyone gets hurt from time to time, and what was I thinking? It’s ok, I say, but it is not. Being in the first year of recovery, my heart is an open wound. “Don’t go there,” wise women warned. But I did. I lost face.
This is not the morose post I intended it to be, because I still find some humor in my circumstances. At 45, I should know that wishing muddy water would become clear by wading in it just won’t work. Still, we wish. I wish.
I think there is humor in pain and wisdom in wading. Instead of crying, I compiled a sweet list for lonely hearts on what to do when your heart is broken. Here’s to us! xx
50 Things to Do When Your Heart Is Broken
Listen to Don Henley songs.
Dress like Ozzy and say it’s your new look.
Send him/her queen size panty hose, an emu, double-headed dong, rank cheese, or whatever you fancy – it’s the thought that counts.
Practice slipping on banana peels so you can do it authentically.
Compose a limerick.
Find a hobby, like Irish dancing or ghost busting.
Become obsessed with Fran Drescher.
Make your own pasta.
Know that this too shall pass (like stool).
Try on bathing suits (that hurts worse than the broken heart).
Grow your armpit hair.
Flirt with everyone. (That 79 year old mailman is looking less decrepit these days.)
Go to the movies alone.
Make a collage of hateful thoughts.
Listen to your mother.
Laugh at inappropriate moments.
Get to know your home town.
Put lipstick on a pig.
Go gay, or a little gay, or straight, or just be gay. It’s all good.
Get new underwear.
Use 80s slang in the office.
Adopt a shelter dog (just do that anyway).
Volunteer (stop thinking about that asshole and volunteer).
Reenact Casablanca with puppets.
Tell everyone he or she is dead to you, then wear black to every gathering.
Get more sun. Energy vampires probably don’t like the sun either.
Do that thing you always wanted to do, but were too scared to do it.
Don’t drown your sorrows…dry them, like beef jerky.
Lend a listening ear.
Be the sexy mofo you are.
Change a habit.
Make a list of why you are a great catch. Believe it.
Get your heart broken again.
Pan for gold.
Take lots of bubble baths (water is cathartic).
Stick with your friends.
Focus on creativity, whatever it is for you.
Make a mixed tape of empowering songs.
Buy yourself some toys (you know, wink*wink).
Love more, not less. Because you will get way over this, sweetie. You will.
The woman I was four months ago was close to death. From her bed, she watched days pass, nights eclipse through the shadows. I see her now as I would watch someone moving down a long hall. Her contorted face forms a silent howl.
She comes to me when I hear a song, or remember a moment lost in a blackout. When someone reaches out for help from the grip of despair, I know that grip that constricts everything.
Being new again, to life, is more difficult that I can convey. Light and sound pierce me, like I was rescued from a mine shaft after spending days in darkness. Life itself seems too loud and too close, but I am learning to live with the fullness of it.
As a sober woman, I look at the past as shattered glass – and the fragments do not have to be my weapon. Each one holds a precious mirror of what moments are like if I choose to return to them. Instead, I hold them gently and whisper that something else is being pieced together.
I live my life by hours. Hours are easy. Each one is as full as I can make it, and made fuller when I hold my dog, or watch the Cooper’s hawks at the park, or talk to friends. The road to recovery is hard, but it is full of unexpected joys, small moments where I can actually be present and alive.
Not everyone gets to experience a complete breath without pain.
To be free from pain; that’s a type of happiness.
I want to return to the woman in that long hall and hold her until the howling stops. But for now, I live my hours and nurture them.
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It’s cold…Frigid, to be exact. 36 degrees in the Valley of the Sun is no joke for a desert rat, and this temperature is frosty! I’ve avoided the western Supes for some time because I always thought them to be too crowded, but changed my mind with a little prompting from a persuasive friend. I am glad I did.
Up the canyon, I can hear the quick crack of a raven and the shrill of a hawk, but I can see neither. My leather shoes are stiff from the cold and I can feel every step as we ascend the trail. Ice forms over a wash bed and rock slicks where waterfalls are made during storms.
I can understand why this trail draws so many here. There is a magic that does not diminish with each person who walks this path, whether ancient or contemporary. It’s a building up of shared memory: the hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.
I’ve been thinking about the possibilities of pain that morning. One slip on black ice or a tumble off an unsteady rock, yes. That’s the risk you take when you hike, but I wasn’t thinking about that obvious kind of mishap. Life’s unpleasant pains, when we want very badly to avoid them, that’s the sort I was thinking of.
In my not too distant past, I would give way to curiosity. Well, actually, impulsivity. And when there was pain at the ready, I welcomed it because I expected it. It didn’t cause much grief because there is no real investment in the immediate.
Then, there’s the painstaking type of pain, when you put the time into something.
Time, work, more work, more time.
A mountain of moments that, oh my god, require trust and perseverance….And no guarantees.
The grueling time it takes for anything to emerge, and the elements that work away at them, that’s what a mountain is. Those needling storms and ice and the cracking open of heat, it knows.
Fragile animals, I cannot forgot this; we are no mountains. People die looking for gold or the trail they’ve lost. People lose sometimes.
There’s always a choice to turn back. I will keep going.
Without family, the only thing I can hold to on Christmas is the fact that there’s nothing to hold on to. Christmas is like the idea of finding our family waiting on the banister, caked with fresh snowflakes, declaring a love for all mankind while being embraced in kisses. It’s fantasy; the wonderful life.
My thoughts return to Christmas past, where I would spend time with my grandparents. One of the best possibilities of those trips was when I could sleep under the tree at night. Looking up through those faux branches into the sparkling glow made me feel at home, precisely because it mimicked the woods and the stars.
This Christmas, I had that opportunity, except here in my beloved home, the Sonoran Desert.
After doing some merrymaking over breakfast with friends, my friend Ellen and I packed off to the North Maricopa Mountains for some desert camping. We rambled through a short, sandy trail to Margie’s Cove, a primitive campground on BLM land, adjacent to protected wilderness and the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
This was an area severely grazed over the past few hundred years, but has been slowly returning to its former ecological glory through the efforts of closure and tightened recreational restrictions. The Monument itself contains the Maricopa Mountain ranges (north and south of the I-8), Table Top Mountains, Booth and White Hills, and the Sand Tanks.
Rife with historical and prehistoric trails and archaeological sites, there’s reason that these places, while quiet, contain thousands of years of stories. You can feel the words under the basalt and strewn across desert pavement, so much so that they sing to life any who care to listen.
Owls lift off from a place
I cannot see. Their long silence
is riddled with the same silence.
In the desert, listening is critical. The slightest wind contains more insight than your GPS. The faint trail of a forgotten sidewinder has more to show you than your cell.
As we set up camp, the clouds formed across the neighboring ridges, looking ominous. It is winter, after all, so we were prepared for both some rain and chilly nights, and the occasional snow (like we saw in 2015). When everything was secured, I set off cross country to look for bones. Like anything, looking intently for what you want results in no luck.
Giant chunks of quartz riddled the desert pavement, looking quite out of the ordinary against the patination. Wilderness boundary signs have been glazed over after a few Sonoran summers – its words barely visible. The quality of quiet shifts from a treacherous gasp of unrelentingly survival to a creosote cold, with humidity setting off any scent.
Later that evening, the campfire was welcome as we quickly ate dinner. Winter nights in the desert make me want to hibernate and wake to the stillness of the stars from under the confines of my sleeping bag and wool blankets.
Next morning, I set out on the trail with the moon to guide me. The air on my face was freezing to the touch, and my nose, permanently frosty. I had hoped to see an owl or maybe a grumpy coyote, or the mountain lion who comes down from his rocks to sip water at the wildlife cache. No sound. No movement. Just my walking motion and my short exhalations.
Walking is reverie, and I, a somnambulist walking in the desert, under moonlight, in winter.
Late morning, we set out on the sandy back roads looking for historic trails. The north country on the boundary of the Monument has rebounded and was especially lush. Sonoran Desert at its finest, said my friend, and she was right. Every few feet, we stopped to gaze at the beauty and the sun creeping over the horizon.
Another friend says, “Sit still and look. This is everything you need right here.” I believe him.
Water has quenched the desert, and everything seemed alive and happy to be so.
Impressions of place: potsherds, one busted, displaced river cobble, many hawks, rusted out windmill, Sheep Mountain (how I longed to see the bighorns), boulder climbing, desert pavement napping, scurries of owls, coyote misfits, deep wash after wash, bajada poetry, walking for miles.
If I could only stay another few nights here…But each night could easily blend into another. The desert is without time, and my time is unfortunate. I am the longing sleeper who must pack up and be fit for the other world I inhabit.
I chase it at night when others slumber.
That which saves dwells where death inhabits.
In the moments of childhood, I would stare out through the faux Christmas tree and wonder where I will end up, what life will become. I have the same childhood curiosity, and no more information as to what comes next as I did then. Here is now. Timeless.
This essay is from a brief visit to the mining towns of Globe and Miami. I went there to shoot a number of old structures, forgotten things, once loved items. What I left with was a heavy feeling of loss and the genesis of renewal. Of coming out of the shadows into a Technicolor of the mind, emotional awakening from nostalgia.
“It’s a dangerous thing to romanticise the past. To allow nostalgia to drag up old memories from the depths of our hearts and fashion them into something they’re not. We built a mirage from a memory and knelt before it like a false god.”