Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Chapter 2: Trust and Connection: South Rim to Lee’s Ferry

Chapter 2: Trust and Connection
South Rim to Lee’s Ferry

I admire the good ones. The ones who have a deep sense and meaning behind whatever they do. For instance, I had dinner in Flagstaff with a former mentor unbeknownst to him) from the Montana Conservation Corps, Lee. He now works in Flagstaff with another corps, still fighting the good fight. I recall him making a point to remember every single corps member’s name. A tough feat when some 200 member cane through every season. But he didn’t do this out of rigidity or habit. He really cared and made every single person feel so important. We conversated over leadership and styles of leadership, which benefited me immensely. Part of my struggles recently has been understanding this exact same issue. Most importantly, the tuneful note I saw revolved and rang around connection. 

I scribbled down these notes afterwards, this warped view skewed by experiences and recent events—-the epiphany on the Altiplano and future plans, work demand and a lured opportunity, a damaging friendship now gone, etc.:

‘Trust—-lack of faith in me; inward self-preservation where I will not commit to others, fearful and leery of expectations; stagnation and impulsive, miscommunication. What I gather is that I lost faith in trust.

Connection—-faith in people I am wary of, responsibility in nature; release, openness, and usage of the gut. What I gather is that I have gained faith through connection.’

Both definitions are now being reshaped along this hike. And here is my fulcrum, where I seek my balance. A chance dinner with Lee and I understand my longing for connection between myself and the natural world, and how the juxtaposition of people I encounter fit and blend. My self-centeredness is not of arrogance, while my quest for self knowledge and growth is tied to selflessness. My flaw is trying to be a hero and please everyone around me. Whom I don’t admire is myself.

I seemed to digress there. My dinner with Lee is not forgotten. My warped notes/definitions are not either. I know what I aiming for, trying to learn and grow towards. It is the connection. Sitting in Li’s flophouse on the South Rim a few days later I asked him: what matters most to you—-your love of long distance hikes or your job? 

‘There, you hit at the core of my life, the crux of my whole life’s question.’

What followed mattered to me. Li, he is another good one. He has followed his passion while maintaining a job that feels impactful. A lot like Lee, I feel they both have balanced their life and given enough of themselves just enough to be truly good people. Both are significant yet strive for insignificance, on a quest to assume the unassuming, to venture towards obliviousness, to flow within the marrow and impact people from behind the curtain.

In Serpentine Canyon I splayed out on the bedrock under a box elder tree, near a shallow pool, a tinaja. What little shade I had I relished in lethargy, in exhaustion to where my imagination looked over me as a cartoon figure with my thirsty tongue hanging out. Above me Bright Angel Shale layered incongruously amid other layers and the dominant Redwall Limestone glimmered between rays and desert varnish tainted by water and minerals. My eyes slowly blinked, slowly discerning my surroundings. I blinked and I breathed heavily and slowly. The past day and a half on the Tonto Platform felt of an unreasonable surmising of unholy temperatures. If I had to guess, my professional dipshit opinion: 156 degrees. Jokes aside, it wasn’t the heat that I felt as much as the all encompassing glare and reflection that emanated a different type of heat from the absorption of hard and metallic rock. This heat bored through the skin and boiled blood. Now, I slowly nodded left and my peepers looked at the pothole, a tiny and insignificant star in a rock galaxy. The water darkened the stone to mauve and the clear reflection whistled in somber waves from the buffeted gusts of wind. In the pool, five or so tadpoles of various sizes clamped on to another tadpole, this one gone. The tadpoles, seemingly all cheeks and a tail, sucked and nibbled at the lifeless one. I didn’t know that tadpoles were cannibals, I thought. I peered deeper signaling out this vicious cycle and introspectively visualizing what my body was doing to itself. I dozed under blurred visions yet I was cognizant of my surroundings and self. I blinked and I saw shade move, my eyes lessened their squint. I felt cooler. Under the glassy water in the pothole the largest tadpole ripped the dead one free from the others. The smaller ones wiggled to the stony bed and hid among the duffy detritus. I felt my arms encrusted in salt. My eyes stung. My belly protruded. My shorts and shirt stiff as a board from salt. After an hour and a half, I gathered up nerve to saunter on. Clouds gathered above and the wind brought on relief. After weaving in and out of challenging drainages, massive on scale to the human eye yet puny on a Grand Canyon map, I finally made South Bass. My faith in me, what I knew would happen happened: I recovered.

I am familiar with suffering. I am not always familiar with patience. Climbing down the old route to the river through Vishnu Schist I found a sandy cove tucked away from the line of sight of downstream rafters. I climbed to a rocky point and saw a camp upstream. I felt antsy. After slogging along in some form or another of heat exhaustion I now demanded efficiency. I wanted to get across the mighty Colorado River now. I saw at the upstream camp the guides toy with the boats rigging them up for the night. One fellow dove right in. I mean, the river didn’t feel cold, especially not after how hot I had been. Plus, the looming warning of what the cold would do to a swimmer not prepared rang in my head. I trusted Li; why not now? Seeing that guide dive in and run out (I could deal with the cold), feeling the wind push downstream (umbrella for speed), and with the time of day (heat to warm up, plus gain a mile or two) I impulse to go. 

Impulse is not necessarily gut. Impulse is usually contrived mentally. So, I threw on my tights, my hooded fleece and wind jacket, and waterproofed my pack. I blew up my small mattress, then I tested the loft without weight in the water. Not so bad, I thought. Excited, I threw on my pack and went out about 15 feet, just underside of the reach of the cove and before the current. My gut spoke to me: exercise patience. I waded back and resigned to relax for the rest of the evening in this unique location and patiently wait until the next morning when I could easily get a ride across. Besides, I was alone, and I did not have to be irrationally brave.

On the sand I laid out my gear, laid back against my pack and propped a knee up. In no time I would be napping, assuredly. Nonetheless, I heard a yell and some echoes. No way, I thought! Sure enough, a troop came rowing through. The first raft breached off the line and made its way towards me. 

‘Hop on! I’m Turtle, but you can call me Tortuga.’

Ah, I thought, patience in the form of a turtle. Floating across felt surreal, simply gazing at the umpteen thousands of feet above me in utter awe. I got introduced to the group, a private group mainly from Crested Butte, CO. Small world—-neighbors so essentially closely located to where I live in Glenwood Springs. Two Tecates were thrown my way and I eagerly accepted the invite for dinner of grilled chicken and quinoa. I slugged my first Tecate and felt the heat and my overworked effort subside downstream.

The tight knit crew had achieved a big day. So, their tardiness down the river to set up a late camp proved fortuitous to me. However, what I felt most grateful for was observing how thankful, helpful, and supportive this group was of each other. One of the rafts has flipped in a challenging rapid. The group quickly acted, got their people secure, then uprighted the raft in roughly 15 minutes. Astonishing to hear the story, let alone seeing the size of the rafts. 

The group had some institutional influence. Turns out the elder of the bunch, a professor taught an Outdoor Leadership Program, in which Turtle applied wonderfully. She oozed with compassion and love, listening to everybody and exuding such a positive vibe. This group flourished. During the Grateful Circle, a debriefing of sorts, the group went around and said their piece aloud about the day. The tipping of the raft topped the theme that capped, or overrided, an epic day. Feelings were expressed and listened to, even constructive criticism acknowledged. The group also strove to keep growing, maybe not cheerfully vocally rather humbly inferred. The strength of the group grew as the gnarled schist walls glowed from the fire and the crews’ faces radiantly imbued humility, compassion, and closeness. I felt so grateful for this ceremony. This extrospection contrasted so starkly to my bewildered introspective moment laying in the creek bed disoriented from the heat.

The beer kept coming, as my legs and arms cramped in multiple places. I could not pass this moment up with new friends in the middle of the Earth. Eventually, I laid down numbly as the night still rang in heat from the day in drunken mirth and full of belly. The moon woke me up. The river quiet, the chasm sucking out the air, I staggered down the sandy bank barefoot, unusual to feel because I tend to roll over from my quilt to piss. I tried to stand firmly balanced but my feet tucked into the compacted mud that cooled and soothed the balls of my feet. I pissed into the river as I teetered from my quasi-erect standing. I felt relief as the tiny tide of cold water tingled my toes while my warm piss swirled around my ankles. I looked up from one stream to another and marveled at the night sky, starry and milky, while the nearly full moon lit up against the radiantly warm schist cliffs. Silhouettes within the cliffs tricked my foggy head and I wobbled mesmerized at the enormity of illusions and the world around me. High up, thousands of feet, mesa points jutted out into an abyss, a sea of illuminated darkness. I stumbled back to my quilt and fell right atop, lowered my buff around my eyes to banish moon glare, and dipped into a restful knot.

I snuck out of camp that morning, early, like a furtive coyote passing through. Although I quietly walked out surreptitiously I felt secure with this group and mouthed my gratitude. I chose to release myself within in, to relate, neither skittish or shy. But the wild draw of the climb out of the canyon compelled me to go, my exit unglamorous, more solemn than known, more grateful than useful. 

I descended into, then entered Shinumo Canyon. The creek raged and as I forded periodically the whitewater pounded against my quads and rattled my trekking poles. I still felt a tad nauseous from the previous couple days though. My belly protruded and I felt I couldn’t drink any more water, let alone eat. I knew I needed calories but the thought of energy bars only made me queasy. I needed salt. So, I crunched my salty chips the way up the meandering trail. The hottest part of my day came at 0630 on the initial brief climb up to a saddle between the Colorado River and Shinumo Creek. Now, up on the esplanade I lethargically cruised along until I got back into the drainage. I startled a turkey vulture under a bluff that had been pecking on a large bull snake, now ripped and shredded, its guts splayed out on the river rock. I climbed on into the narrows and the trail became overgrown and nonexistent. Following cairns I finally hit the side trail that went steeply up shelves and benches until the Muav layer, this to avoid a tremendous pour off. Luckily for me the day was cloudy and overcast with a strong, cool wind. After 5000 or so feet I attained Swamp Ridge Point to chilly gusts. I strapped on my down jacket and hunkered atilt a ponderosa and took a long nap. 

The weather changed. Then again, the weather has been constantly changing. While I have kept adapting and maintained flexibility along the way I was no longer walking along in a landscape where I would be merely uncomfortable. Now, things would need more consideration. A blizzard caught me on the Kaibab Plateau. Couple that with a reeling recovery from the heat exhaustion in the Grand Canyon, I headed to Jacob Lake for some caloric sustenance.

I left Jacob Lake feeling a bit misplaced. I knew which direction I was headed but I had not the faintest clue where I was going. I mean, this is the design of the concept, but it also meant I may be taking chances in canyon country if the weather seemed dicey. I did not want a straight line slog. So, I veered the slog course half way into that day of leaving Jacob Lake for a more adventurous course. Keep the names and records for whoever is keeping score—-this creativity within the land I desire has no rules, no judgment, no competition of others, no comparing, only growth within self: I can go wherever I want. And with my experience and capabilities I am empowered to make sensible decisions on the fly while going where my gut feels pulled towards. Atop the Paria Plateau, as I propped up my top, rain drops fell sporadically. I slept hard that night under a bright moon occasionally shrouded my clouds. 

I gave it a go. The wind whistled into emptiness, the view glorious. Way down below I could see the chocolate mixed river—no, I could taste it. The drop into the Paria River Canyon plummeted with benches staggered down until a red rock slab field chunked up a wide cut in the prominent wall. Next, some red benches with block buttresses forming the lip in which I slipped through a chute to attain the next layer. Rain began to fell, a thick curtain blurred the vista down canyon as I hunkered under an overhang. I decided to wait this cell out in case I needed all my limbs in case the rock became slippery. All the red rock sandstone glistened under sheets of drooping water staining the bright red to a gloomier purple. I wasn’t feeling or thinking much rather than listening to the drone pittee patter of a raindrop meditation. An hour passed and I folded up my umbrella which had deflected spray from mist and the drop from the overhang above.

At the river, a roar took over the whistles wind; the wind stopped but the river raged. Aware that the Paria was in a flood state I impulsively decided to go upstream following a river trail. I looked up at the northern walls now towering infernally in blood red, the incline so tilted I would lose my balance backwards. A way out would be a tremendous effort, but I figured scanning would be keep me on guard. I moved rather swiftly through mid calf crossings. The going did not seem to be going so bad, so I continued. At one point, aware of what the flooding meant, I took a stab at a way out and picked my way up a walled basin about 500ft before a ledge thwarted my passage. I descended back to the river and in about 2 more miles I planted camp on a sandbar under a tree, the banks of the rushing river some 10 feet below me. 

Surrounded in a narrow u bend of the river, the pink and purple walls, smooth and polished, hung over like an amphitheater. Any sound sounded louder than what the sound would sound like without the echo chamber. At one point in the night, I heard a loud airplane roar and fathomed how weird this situation was to be in an utter hole in the earth and hear a large jet. I groggily realized that quite possibly the river had flash flooded, for no passenger jets cross that area at night. Rain fell and I reluctantly set up my shelter. Really, I wanted things to be kosher rather than face the reality. 

I put on every piece of clothing I had that morning as I forded the first of many crossing during the settled cold of the morning in narrows of a river. I walked in machinations of one hell bent on attaining one’s goal. But then the rain fell hard. The water rose to my knees. Occasionally I sought refuge under overhangs to not only give myself a break but to maintain some dry heat which only sated my mind.

Within an instant I understood I had to retreat. The notion had not even dawned on me until then. The situation had been step by step, to keep pursuing a go as long as the go went. Rain downpoured from the skies as the river kept rising. At 8am in the morning, things seemed uncertain. Under an overhang on a now seldom sandbar within seconds I knew to retreat. 

I hurriedly flew down river as the chocalately muddy waters rose to mid-thigh. I doubled my mileage per hour going downstream, my adrenaline pumping as I needed to find safety. Rainwater flowed down every pour off  running heavily into a pitter-pattered river. A squawk rang out from above. A lone raven flew between small alcoves hundreds of feet above. I wondered where the raven’s partner was at. Curiously flummoxed, I had no time to fathom. I rushed further under a couple more hours of heavy rain, my upstream footprints now completely vanished under a sweltering flood.

I contemplated arriving at Lee’s Ferry and thought: how did I get here. As same as it ever was, I didn’t stop and kept pushing. Finally, and unexpectedly, I saw a cell phone tower a couple miles downstream where I knew the confluence was of the Paria with the Colorado. I needed to check in. I knew folks would be looking for me if I had continued onward. But I didn’t. In an absolute second, I had turned back, unlike my usual wild grit. Floods of messages came in. A thought not even registered, so far away from where my mind had been, a drowning hole in the earth, I found out my granny had passed. I welled up in an emotional burst, the situation of the day climaxing while leveling out in utter emotion of longing. I immediately emotionally rationalized the raven: she gave my life for hers. 

Fuck, while I understand how irrational I felt, I couldn’t help but feel her. The vermilion and pink cliffs strung on by with the flow that passed through me. I needed to get home, the flooding waters not the sign, not my own life mattered, something bigger to me, in the middle of everywhere, vulnerable, I pulsed. I did not know where I would be, let alone go, without her. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Chapter 1: A Dream, or Goal, and the Idiotic Process: Greer to South Rim

Chapter 1: A Dream, or Goal, and the Idiotic Process
Greer to South Rim

A static line is consistently nonexistent. Only an interaction within wavelengths, randomness within collisions, a bobbing equilibrium, blipping and kissing these trails, a staggering ride through eternity. Yet, we try to put an order to the math, numerically organizing our chaos, just to slide along our uncomfort zone. This is so tiring I need a nap. Just to drift into nothing, like a feather of insignificant gossamer. This need of seeking out a semblance when things are unexplainable only to fool ourselves with a false sense of security is somewhat baffling to me. 

Maybe it all is in the senses. The blustery of the chilly Spring day up in the high plateaus brought dank to the aspen groves, the air redolent of a northeastern cellar as I stroll on by. My hands tucked into my pockets, my buff flanking my ears, and my hoodies zipped up to fend off the relentless wind; I am conscious of my sensual freedoms. My toes nip with cold from soggy meadows and my nose gloomily perks up with those dank aspen leaves, the mulch a potent herb over a cold boil. My eyes water and I feel I am alive.

The days drift but I am hindered not by my senses being entranced by my world around me rather my racing mind. I only wish the wind would flurry through me and roar louder. I think, I did have something occur to me. I cannot fool it. I tasted something consciously free last summer and whatever it was is gone. But really, something changed. In the distance I can pinpoint describe to you what I am seeing but even a stalwart visual changes over time. Whether by heat rays, natural catastrophes, my own blurring vision, or simply utter ignorance, let alone a communication breakdown. We are not all on the same page, nevertheless, I am only concerned with my own leaflets within the bindings. 

I don’t think the notion of being consciously free even crossed my mind when I first dreamt of wandering so many moons ago, let alone on my first step on a long distant trail. Emotionally voided is probably where and what my mind drove for. All of this, imperceptible to my reality, what was happening around me, a study in alcohol at one point. Off and on, I undulated in pain as an alcoholist. I studied it rather than indulged in it in order to stave off fruition of a dream and the blessing of some sort of toilsome freedom. And there on the Salar de Coipasa in western Bolivia last summer I found both, emotionally and consciously free, a level, a condition of being human that seemed to blend in with impermanence, riding the god damn wave. I had not a fleeting high we usually associate synergy with, rather an elevated state. At that exact moment I was guilt free and finally living the actual life of years of inner turmoil, painful vacillations of emotional swirls and a chaotic intellect torn between the normal and the wild, or actualizing a primal instinct, a natural wonder, a blooming gut unfolding inside of me to explore the world and to shelve all fear and timidity apart. I wasn’t aching then, for I was thriving. For the first time in my life, I had been free.

What better place to experience this freedom of nothing, this blank existence, a shroud of an endless hole in a place as vast, empty, and voluminous as the Altiplano. The naked veneer of mineral and salt, ancient volcanoes melting, the whole world a smeared palette, life begat a vacuum where I was being hurled in a state of perpetual emptiness and I crossed over into the essence.

If I could carry this I would, and although I am free I am condemned by it yet I do not carry it. I walk in consternation at times, laden with guilt. Yet this hike I am on now is a freedom from everyday drudgery, the facade of actuality, the inconvenience of rigmorale. One step in front of the other, then back to work. Rinse, lather, repeat: the Shampoo Effect. I always thought I would leave when and if I’ve nobody left. I mean, I believed this event would occur. I waited. Far from being patient, stirring and lurking within society charming idiots with my smile and my shoulders of leadership. I used to stare up at Orion and his glittering shoulders. He held up the sky while mine only punctured the floor burrowing deeper and deeper. Release me, I thought. Constantly. 

The last one...a morbid thought...’If I’ve nobody left’...I’m not sure how to elaborate that one. It’s holding on to a ridiculous dream, one that doesn’t make sense. Nobody left, like no one to miss me or need me or to care for, like all is done, or my freedom is no longer on anyone else’s hands...that’s when I’d go. 

I still don’t know what that means. Because I am completely aware that is absurd and completely against any idea or notion of what I know or would think I would do. It’s a selfish and self-indulging thing that has no relevance to real life. It’s imaginary, childlike, a fairy tale that doesn’t take on the form of the present. Like an alternate universe. Or else, I am a coward. How else do I explain it. But, it’s there. Occasionally popping up in my brain or heart, a whim of fantasy, of the infinitely lonesome vagabond.

Chasing the coyotes, I’ve got worlds to run. I am feverish, pursuing the tapered point of a bushy tail of the middle pack, signifying the balance of a controlled beast. Because my focus is on the tail. I thrash through the gambel oak, one way, then another. The branches resist and poke further in as the leaves have yet to unfold. The radar of my instincts gouging the way through something complicated, while my coyote instincts are infantile. I am clumsy, but getting faster, my eyes zoomed in on what I am relentlessly pursuing; my heart is fusing over into another realm. The smaller game trails weave in and out of the thick brush, the  few crusty leaves of the gambel oak clinging on to the last season of growth, already dead, like faded scars. The coyotes whack the sharp branches cascading the brown bristled leaves within a tunnel of brush. Somehow I am able to hollow out a path behind coyotes, trampling. My clumsiness relinquishes but a labyrinth grove of dwarf aspen trips my gut up, confuses me. I lose tail of the middle pack; my mind catches up, I am not animal then.

Suddenly a clearing and I gain ground. My stride opens in a tall length. And my unobstructed path, my stride within the bare slopes, pushes the pack further, quicker into the next thicket. They don’t trust me yet. Yet, I see what the coyotes are focused on—-something further up ahead, within another thicket, something I cannot see but I know it is there. Whatever it is, I feel it more than I see it. I want whatever more than the coyotes can ever wildly want. I feel competitive, arrogant, breaking from the herd of the mind. A social instinct fractures because I am hungrier.

Still I am behind three of them, zigzagging chaotically yet seemingly fluid through the pokey brush. At a fork, one coyote, a lead one, dashed off to the right, diverging to what I have known as to where people are to inhabit. I go the other way, chasing the other lead coyote, hankled by a reactive and unconcious movement, a fissure from my social instinct. Saliva now frothing around my jowls, I crease a furrow in my brow, I hunch further inward and narrow in on the hunt, my shoulders lurched, my hackles up. I made the choice: coyote not people.

I awake, up on the Rim, from a lunchtime quick nap and in a spontaneous thought, my coming-to, my random human mind is still there and I am befuddled by the whole 'lone wolf' expression. It simply isn't true, I think. The coyote, now, so similar to humans yet so vastly different--- to herd or not to herd. That is the question. My eyes still groggy, I spy on a wild horse herd from the heights of the bluff, not with any particular interest, no hunger pangs or urge to kill, nothing is triggered. I am lingering insouciantly up on the smallish and wallish rampart reading the contours of the land. The heat waves of the faraway distance high desert confuse me yet tantalize me, while the bends in the earth refresh me, make me thirsty; I see where water travels, erodes despite the patchy thick forest. Most of all, I am listening to the lament of the wind, hearing the moan of nature. It’s not always like this, but it is what’s left. All this dream world babble is code for the ultimate question: Just what the fuck am I?

A horse bellows down below me in the pasture. Burnt and laid low in a large expanse with undulating cover, the grass-green meadow is a place of refuge. Food, water, protection: the herd. At least until everything dries up. I spot a lonesome horse hobbling towards the circled main group about a hundred yards out. Long, dark tails flicker indifferently of the close-knitted band. I suddenly feel an immense sadness. A lone tear drizzles from an eye down my cheek and drowns in my scraggly beard. I am a fucking cow, just like everybody else. What shame I feel watching that lonely horse hobble back to the group. And I thought—no, I believed I had the pluck to leave with no strings attached. But isn’t that a guitar that cannot be strummed? The existence of a guitar is when it is made, the essence, now, when it is played.

I am injured. Not from the sympathy, nor any physically agonizing pain, no, no no no—-it’s the soul that’s injured, my spirit in this blasted muck. Hobbling back, head down, I feel what that horse feels. Connection lost, humiliation, dejectedly defeated. I’ve lost enthusiasm: people not coyote.

I gather up the gall to move forward. The sweet smell of ponderosa, vanilla and butterscotch, emanate from the puzzled jigsaw of bark. Air in my head, I am light. I found a drainage to walk up following a stamped out horse path. As soothing as my steps sounded the forest of ponderosa pushed me towards a window sill with a fresh apple pie atop. I couldn’t resist, as I floated through. Nevertheless, I walked on in guilt, ashamed for who I am which I knew not. Despite the seemingly insufferable pain the hobbled horse appeared to be in, I could not escape my hobbled thoughts and ridiculously feel worse, that this dream that has become idiotic. I am afraid, but I found solace in this mundane ponderosa forest up on the Mogollon Rim. I just felt faraway, of a place where I didn’t have to be me, anyone else, or anything. I was a part of the landscape, insignificant, sewn together within nature to a stitch that held the semblance of mystery together. Nature didn’t care. That was my true solace. I didn’t have to be part of the herd. Time to not dwell on my hobbled thoughts, a space to feel a loss with others or the guilt associated with it. And with time, the steps continued, the places changed, and I forgot about the wild horse.

Soon, I was under the Rim. I followed the pulse of the venous trail weaving into gullies and over shoulder juts. The rim above looked jagged and messy. The blood of red sandstone below the rim and along the route exhibited a core. Somewhere along the Rim, perhaps under and inside, a heart pumped. Of course I am being slightly poetic. Mainly, you can feel the Mogollon Rim, a divisive end between geologic features. The presence of the past pulses through this wide landscape, not quite the romantic dream of connection I sought, but if I could be a giant I would slide a barstool up to the bar of the Rim and slug a beer and smell the essence. 

I wakened to the pungent smell of elk urine the next night, now atop the Rim permanently for now. My eyes popped open from smell, my olfactory senses telling the brain an animal stood near by. Immediately I knew the smell of elk. I kept still to not startle the number out there. Trampled or not, I wanted to be a part of them even for a split pissy second. The deep whiff of salt and sour, alkaline, brought me back to the Altiplano. Despite all this gunk I made a plan at that epiphany. Living and thriving ‘out there’ is as real as that elk piss. This Winter changed me, however. The pull of the opposite life I crave demanded I be present. Yet, the seed was planted. 

Right now, right here, surrounded amid a thick air of elk piss, enveloped under a dark and moonless night, I am on a journey that will span into the next decade. I am doing it the way I feel I need to do—-maintaining relationships and connectivity, and not abandoning every last godforesaken one of you. All those things I said when I was young, I meant it. My gall is apathetic anymore to whatever mumblings are around. I am no longer brave only when I drink. If I do not interpret what is inside of me by the natural world I will stay holed up forever. But the Altiplano changed that. The static line I had lingered over is a severe depression. I crossed over and I ain’t turning back. The poles dictate my balance.

The smell of rain and a prescribed fire mixed into miles. Ominously, clouds ranged in like a lazy, thundering herd of grazing cattle. Smothering the land, I moved quicker than the sky pattern. I kept walking, driving, seeking a free consciousness smothered under clouds. How idiotic a goal! I hearkened my senses to forge my dreams. Maybe I understand through my nose, acknowledge with my eyes, and obstinately refuse with my ears. And how do I taste? I interpret with my taste. I tasted that bitter elk piss. No matter the alkalinity I see that window I saw. From my will I acknowledge my dream is now my goal. And I will fall over clumsily to attain it.

Rain sat in Flagstaff for a few days. I trotted over to a bar, a dark and dank bar. A drunk Navajo blathered about incoherently and I sat quietly listening to him. We chatted and laughed about languages, in particular how ridiculous the English language is. ‘Seek’ and ‘sought...’ fuckin weird, no? A biker swilled like a pirate and acted like an asshole, a disheveled student slunk on a tall table celebrating another drink as he was to graduate the next day. A yuppie ordered a coffee with cream. I am out back into another wild realm. My thoughts can save the world but I am not in the mood. Yet, when the bartender cut off the Navajo I scoffed and walked out with him. On the street, I parted ways and hoofed it under pouring rain. When I am in the mood, I will be gone regardless of how condemned I will be of my own guilt and of who I have left who may bestow my freedom. In the end, it is all ridiculous, simply me the most of all.

The rain persisted. Heavily shrouded in clouds the San Francisco Peaks appeared an unending ascending range, like an ominous volcano harboring evermore altitudinous flanks above. I followed fresh bear track and studied the meandering route scouting what the bear was smelling or eluding or touching. Then, the tracks pushed deeper through the soft snow and scrounged up fresh matter of mud. The bear had heard me and started to run. I tracked his stride envisioning the bear breathing only a tad effortlessly, unaffected by the weather or the time of day, or me, and affected only by his instinct for isolation.

The storms brought out different animal movements not normally associated with my being on foot. Lone coyotes snuck oddly close by, the cows hung underneath a juniper canopy of their own, and deer huddled close together. But the elk, they acted the same, indifferent to the dampness. Two enormous cells split the sky. Up on the plateau I could see a mega-thunderhead darkening the mountains to the south. To the immediate northwest, and the direction I needed to go, curtains of rain hung. I popped my shelter up not only to wait out the impending rain but to dry off what precipitation had lingered from last night. If the rain hit I had shelter. If the rain didn’t, I had a dry shelter. Either way, I felt secure. But above me an emptiness appeared, a vacuum of sorts splitting the cells into a vee. I sat on a flat yet sharp piece of dolomite, elbows on my knees and my hands on my chin, waiting. A large beetle shaped like the old racist syrup bottles wandered between my shoes. I observed the beetle pick over whatever laid in its path—-sprigs of grass and sage, fragments of paintbrush, specks of bark, and speckles of endless red dirt. I looked closer at the 6 oddly shaped legs. The legs splintered at 90 degrees and appeared stiffly floppy. Yet the beetle climbed over whatever it came upon. Diligently the beetle scoured the tiny plot it meandered in. Suddenly, tiny clumps of dirt flung out from under a tiny patch of grass near the weaving path. From underneath a grassy roof, another beetle, a tad smaller than the other one, burrowed under the clump of grass. I thought maybe this beetle sought coverage from looming rain, like I was witnessing a behavior, that even all animals and insect have some sort of emotion, like fear, during certain climatic events. I mean, that’s what I was doing. The larger beetle clambered on whiling away its picking and I wondered if that beetle could hear, or sense, or whatever of the other beetle. Not even one inclination for me to consider these beetles had any one type of emotional intuition. The one digging backed out of its hole and continued on, clearly unaffected by the incoming weather. Both beetles passed each other like ships in the night except without any longing for connection. 

I sprang up and rushed over to my tarp. I giggled a bit, out loud to myself, broke down my tarp, packed up, and hiked onward towards the oozing clouds stacked with a towering thunderhead. I topped out at a barren plateau and the sky, all around me, changed. I trudged on exhilarated with the morphing world around me. I passed under strung out power lines from metal towers. The electricity zapped the air loudly, sizzling because the rain drizzled onto the lines. Under these towers and power lines my pinky and ring finger, nestled under the corked handle, tingled every time each carbon fiber trekking pole tapped the damp ground. I felt the static jolt at every stride and I persistently indulged the more so by keeping my fingers on the pole longer at every jolt. I even stopped, right out under and in the middle, and felt the static current vibrate and tingle my fingers. Muscles in my forearm quivered as the current ran through my nerves. Nothing seemed certain to me at the moment, except my wonder, a wonder I hoped would never change.