Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The influence of Everett Ruess on the Vagabond Loop

Like a faraway dustdevil, the idea for the Vagabond Loop had been swirling in my head for some time. I could see it playing in the playas in front of me dancing and mingling with the land around it, whirling everything up in the air as if to fancifully entertain the traveller, me. As I neared this dustdevil, it beheld in front of me a size bigger in magnitude than I initially thought. It is easy to travel thousands of miles in your head, hopping from one section of trail to the next. One hundred miles seems like a swift gust of wind but when the planning process and all the actual steps are complete the enormity of the gust is plainsight: tornado.
Last summer in northern New Mexico I vocalized my idea with a fellow thru-hiker named Blister. The notion of the idea rooted deep in my head became more feasible as I gave details of the journey to Blister. But I also had one other objective at the time that weighed heavily in my future thru-hiking plans: completing the AT in which I would attain the coveted Triple Crown.
I walked the rest of the way to Canada on the CDT with the cemented thought that hiking the AT and attaining the Triple Crown was my plan. In fact, Lint and I spent countless hours conversating while walking about aspects of the AT. From the novice trail nerds, to quirky characters of the trail, to obstructed though scenic beauty, to gear used on the AT, to hiker-hut scenarios; we covered it all. I admit, I was stoked to be planning for an AT hike. I was one step closer to attaining my goal of the Triple Crown. The Vagabond Loop became a future, far off goal. However, plans change. Actually, my feelings changed. I could not ignore the lure of the West within me and the challenges that laid before me.
Escalante is a faraway small desert town in south central Utah. Many lost wayfarers, floppy-hatted artists, bristly-faced rogues, freckled-faced local mormans, frazzled sun-drenched wanderers, chafed and gritty adventurers, and surly writers venture to this red desert outpost in hopes of refreshment and shade under a massive cottonwood in order to beat the ubiquitous sun and wind. Everett Ruess was no doubt a type of this vagabond bunch. He was last seen in Escalante in the autumn of 1934 heading south out of town towing 2 mules, his painting supplies, gear, and the lust to wander within the vast wilderness surrounding the dusty outpost. His disappearance has driven a myth about the lengendary vagabond and the wanton, dreamy Southwest that swallowed Everett up. Mysticism surrounds his reasons why he went farther away. He wasn't salty towards civilizations, well, not profoundly. He was enamored with far off hollows, hidden cubby holes and slot canyons, and leather-faced peoples. He lived out of a rucksack with his mules and painted block art, wandering. He tramped over the Southwest in hopes of being a 'nemo.' His recognition became bigger than he ever thought of and this contradicted with his sentiments of being obscure and oblivious to the common people.

This past autumn, I stayed in a trailer 14 miles west of Escalante. I became immersed with the isolation around us. Every day I would run somewhere out in the big empty and I would wander around town listlessly enjoying my freedom. My time there overlapped with the Everett Ruess Days or also known by its primary name the Escalante Art Festival, something I was very excited about, for I too have been swept up by the Ruess legend. I related to Ruess. I remember my 20's of having this aimless lust to wander and write, to venture the world and get lost, especially in emptiness and in isolated canyon mazes and island mountain ranges----all away from humans. I sat in a big white room at the Visitor's Center waiting for the premiere of Wilderness Song, a documentary on Everett Ruess. The tingling began, my spirit swelled and my palms began to get profusely sweaty. I could feel a tremulous excitement welling up inside. The documentary showed interviews from the oldtimers of the Grand Staircase area that had reportedly last seen Ruess. They instilled in me a way of hard living that I respected, much more so than city life. Some didn't get what Ruess was doing and saw him as some kind of fancy artist who was wandering around way in over his head. But Ruess had experience, not of the expert level but he was no slouch either. Through all the nit-pickings of the oldtimers one theme held true to me: they respected that he did what he wanted. He had a freedom to act and he did so.
Towards the end of the festival the owner of Escalante Outfitters, Steve, whose trailer we were staying at, bought Ruess' brown poncho, some of his original block prints and his old Kodak slide camera. I sat in Steve's living room framed in art pieces on the walls, expensive in taste but none held the value of the Ruess collection he had just bought. I held history within my grips. I heard the giant cottonwood out in the front yard jostle in the rattling breeze: I knew what I needed to do.
The next day on a long run, the wind whistled up in a high-pitched squeal and I observed a spindly dust devil, small in its malevolent intentions, small in size. The devil swept near me, sagebrush in thrust, and I blinked and squeezed my eyelids and clinched my visor down towards my sloped nose to block the sand particles. I felt grizzle after grizzle pelt me from the impish wind. I didn't run or take cover under something larger. I endured the hot swirling wind and hunkered where I sat on the bank of an old jeep two-track that petered out into Big Spencer Flat, some 15 miles east of Escalante. The devil sped passed me meandering in different directions floating violently in an empty direction, vacuous in form, dissappearing from plainsight. Down in the road, embedded among the caked red sand I found a round rock, basalt in nature, I don't know, some igneous form perfectly circular with minute imperfections. I rolled it in my fingertips and gazed out over dreary, wrinkled sand dunes. The sun smothered my thoughts but could not quell my heart. This wanderment, my heart, is out there among the heat waves distorting real visions...
Here is Wilderness Song, by Everett Ruess:
I have been one who loved the wilderness
Swaggered and softly crept among the mountain peaks
I have listened long to the seas brave music,
I have sung my songs above the shriek of desert winds.
On canyon trails when warm nights winds were blowing,
Blowing and sighing through the star tipped pines,
Musing, I walked behind my placid burro,
While water rushed and broke on pointed rocks below.
I have known a green seas heaving,
I have loved red rocks and twisted trees and cloudless turquoise skies,
Slow sunny clouds and red sand blowing.
I have felt the rain and slept behind the waterfall.
In cool sweet grasses I have lain and heard the ghostly murmur of regretful winds,
In aspen glades where rustling silver leaves whisper wild sorrows to the green gold solitude’s,
I have watched the shadowed clouds pile high.
Singing, I rode to meet the splendid shouting storm,
And fought it’s fury until the hidden sun foundered in darkness,
And the lightning heard my song.
Say that I was tired and weary,
Burned and blinded by the desert sun,
Footsore, thirsty sick with strange diseases, lonely
And wet and cold,
But that I kept my dream.
Always I shall be one who loves the wilderness.
Swaggers and softly creeps among the mountain peaks.
I shall listen long to the seas brave music.
I shall sing my songs above the shriek of desert winds.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A bud from nothing, everything: The Vagabond Loop

Is this me going away, farther into the full emptiness? Farther away from windowed edifices, re-barred pillars, and framed sidewalks. Not in a repulsed, cynical state, but a detachment into a space, an awayness, into remote places that enables me to escape. The urge is too great; I am captured by the swill of the hot, empty air seeping through my pores and down my parched gullet.
Time is warped. The horizons look the same: the outline of the black ranges, the same smeltering azureous blue sky, the same translucent mirage. My vision is distorted by my dripping brow. The salt stings my eyes. I cannot blink, the same is ahead of me, up there out yonder, my awayness is whirling up in a gritty wind tunnel. Time becomes instransigent. There is no end for me; I want to go farther away.
My worn, ragged shoes give me a topical, skin-prick perception of time. I know time has elapsed because my shoes signify so. The miles I've walked tick away time; I know how long, how far, and what time it is by the wear on my shoes. But only after immersing my self, succumbing to the red rock desert and island ranges surrounding me, can a deft perception from deep down within sense the seasons in change, the migration of the fauna, and time raging forth. If not, then it is just a dream. And my awayness is abolished.
How precious the subtleties...

...of mashing. I refuse to live life not fully committed to acting out my dreams. In an act of defiance I wage war on emotion, on self-staged histrionics, and the embellished ego to pursue and perservere to the actual existence of ideas and dreams. No more dreamy talk and fluttery words, I am all in. I mean what I say. You'll see, through my actions, sometimes through sheer stubborness, I will make what I dream come true. This is a proclamation of an end to babble.
I want more than I can ever write about, more than I can ever express to you, more than I can ever experience. Taste see feel, pulsing with adventure---my blood boils.

The Vagabond Loop is the next flame to tickle the underside of my palm of life...