Utah Passage: Shadows and Reflections
Loma CO to Mesquite NV
~830m, 30 days
I have been navigating by feel in the night under a growing sliver of a moon. I poke my headlamp on for efficiency. But, then, I only turn it off to float by feel from one slickrock block to another boulder, from one swale to another. I feel every contour under my feet as I punch roots through my toes that claw under the derma of earth. At a gap the air sucks through a tunnel, at a canyon the air moans and gulps and drops into a vacuum. The same pull of a high cliff to jump, the same can be said of a vacuum to gleam the channel of a vacuous stream. The night squeezes out the day, the dusk that remains resembles a drowned out ember, the silhouette of the horizon nearing a blending of two blacknesses the jaw shuts. The stars begin to illuminate and suddenly I am turned on the other side of the moon. I wonder if the stars always twinkle even without a ponderous gaze. Nevertheless, despite my romanticism, I know the stars do. The cold sinks and digs into my skin; the cold is feeling me up, getting to know me. This type of navigation feels so instinctual, like I am wandering to the bathroom in the dark in a place I call home. In the deep canyons I find solace. I sense the flittering bats darting in the air. The squeaks I smell rather than hear, palpable like the aroma of a fresh pot of coffee, like I know where the kitchen is at, or what sill the fresh peach pie sits upon. The squeaks lead the way and I can envision the wrinkled and cleaved walls. I feel like a beetle roaming over a patch of crust in the dark night, low to the ground, tip toeing without losing stride. I hear ravens bedding down high above in the walls, their mischief deplete, the antics of the raven recoiled for rejuvenation. I am hungry, I think. I whisper at this point because I need to be the air. My nose runs. I have been punched by stillness. The breeze stops. I find a patch and lay down. I need to be the cold night.
In Moab, a woman offered me some money. I sat under some shade, my belly full, sleepy and bleary eyed, just relaxing the day, and she turned around and offered some bills. I just shook my head and smiled kindly with my eyes. Sometimes I long to look outward at me, like in a dream, though I am not sure I would recognize me. I laughed inside, a hibernation of glee that I am unwilling to share. I thought of the hilarity that I just got off a small stretch of work where I tried to be presentable to the affluent around me. And now I looked like a bum. What a teetering twine my mask is made of. I find humor in how I feel people’s perception of me have grown misguided even more, even more so than months ago. Except I am not agitated by it anymore. I have connection in the natural world, inside the geode, inside the recess of the canyon. I am no longer looking over the edge.
I started this year struggling with how people saw me and what people saw in me. I felt like a truth had been conformed, molded from their own clay, even contorted, from people around me. And now, in my element, I am less worthy than what other’s perceived of me before. Funnily enough, I felt happy, relaxed, and at ease during that resting moment, rich beyond perception.
A week or so before a woman told me in Aspen, a woman who had never really been in the hills, she told me she saw a wolf. I thought of the perception or the misconceptions of the coyote. I knew that is what she saw by her description alone, let alone the scarcity of wolves in those parts. There had been no outcry of wolves. Only a myth in the back of the mind, an imaginary looksie over the rim. My craving of the backcountry in front of me should match the backcountry in my mind. The reality I am seeking is the blending of these perceptions. Like the spacial gap between the depths of a sea and the sky above, that gap that absorbs light can become anything, or nothing, filling the gaps and blending in becoming a part of the universe. This is no camouflage or an act of protection. This is nothing.
Maybe there is this secret game I am playing unbeknownst to me and the world. But the game to me is not having a care in the world. Right now, I don’t care. Like the land, like the coyote, I simply do not care. People want to believe what they want to believe, and not what they want to understand, nor do they make an effort to acknowledge what is invisibly visible.
The moon is spectacular out here under the still sky. The stillness, the isolation; time is frozen. The full moon has lingered on until just the moment dawn touches the horizon. The spectrum of light is otherworldly, as if Earth is stuck between two planets juxtaposed between two orbs, I the interstitial space sandwiched as much as the layers of rock in this squished staircase. Although the sunlight is softer than the moonlight, you can sense the angle of the Earth is tilted, meekly absorbing what strength it can from the heavens above, resembling a deep alcove that retain a sinking cold hidden away, stowed away until the summer of next. The sun is still powerful but the length of day is so much shorter. I am enjoying the dark walking very much, just feeling my way. However, I thought, why must we numerate time or try to shorten or lengthen a day. Why not, if that's the case, make the day consist of 36 hours? Why keep the same 24 hours all the time? Then, I remember we are humans, and not gods. I sighed in a hopeless disappointment. I am not being greedy here. Neither am I being nostalgic. I simply want a moment to last longer than a moment. If I can make things slow inside maybe the moment will lengthen.
The leaves of the cottonwood quake crisply under the aridity of the air, the season of decay. Faraway feels like death. Faraway, faraway feels like life. I am on the porch of middle age, my skin tanned and wrinkled, yet ashen. My stare is deep detachment, yet I acknowledge the wind chime of dying leaves. I ache for the decomposing, maybe only to arise anew from the alcove of the cold. Maybe my memory will extend along a faraway rib along a tip-top branch of that cottonwood. A scar for life this season of growth.
I took a step across Harris Wash and obliterated a rotted branch of a downed cottonwood. Now the branch won’t stay any longer, yet rove down the bends piece by piece of the Escalante. The wash dries and I trample cup cakes of baked mud. One day, this bed will be pockmarked with raindrops or rushed with a small trickle of salty water. The rippled rock tiles the micro-layers of clay, of earthy pink dirt. What is an oven is the hearth of decay, killing life yet birthing life. Water etched sand eons ago with ripples and waves harnessed along with wind. A sudden change marked the occurrence with a vow of surrender. The ripples of perception of a hard rock that was once soft sand shattered by a size 14. The event of hardening, the instantaneous change yet so long lasting yet so damn fragile; the shards of broken pottery do not show the ornate vase or most importantly the usage.
Even I am confused by my own perception, from what reflects in the mirror to how I put myself out there to what is characteristic of me and how others respond to that, even the way I blend in to separate myself, even when I abscond myself to highlight myself. I am what I am, however, in the long and short of it, I belong in the faraway places, obscure, gone from people, only acting on what is vital and necessary. When I look into a pothole, the towering sandstone blood resplendent above me, the sky blue pouring from a heavenly spout, within that pothole I gaze into the depth unknown—either two inches or two feet, regardless, I see a reflection, a shadow staring orbless back. Maybe I am just a dog who does not recognize its own reflection, a coyote who is perplexed by its own spirit. I am playing mischief with myself. Nevertheless, this pothole is where I get my water from, to satiate my thirst, to propel my sustenance.
I am in an absurd dilemma. On the outside I show the results of who I am, while on the inside I keep seeing something to climb. I am an imposter, even out here in this empty red rock desert. I am afraid the cold will shatter me. I am afraid I will pick back up the remnant pieces and grow back into something even better. Yet nothing is better. Yet nothing is better than nothing. My time is limited out here, another two more weeks before diving right back into a job. This is my time of reflection, and I find literal reflections of where I see that dark shadow in a two inch pothole. The imposter wants to walk on after filling up, grateful for another good season. The real me, however, feels the urge to dive head first into that bottomless and orbless shadow, swim around in the murk, striving for deeper depths. I will find me one day, or, at least, I will keep trying to find me.
Instead of this orbless shadow, the most reasonable side of me, the side that grants me some sort of grace, would simply have me naked under the blanket of wilderness, under the slickrock domes tiled like reptilian skin, splattered with lichen, forged with wind, stained with time and worn with water. Just a product of nature. I mean, I will still tick, but I want to reject the intent and instead rove aimlessly. A jaunt over a sandy bench, the britches of slickrock draped below revealing the guts of rock held with smooth walled chasms of a Stone Donkey, I find little veins of sand to avoid the cryptobiotic soil to split the far reaching branches of the juniper. The wind howls over the sandy obscured ridge. The vista, seemingly hazy as dusk set in over a vast and shapely landscape, maybe the wind blurs the vision. I know my footprints will soon vanish. I know my past existence, the most recent one, will disappear. But the new one, the one now, the foreseen footprints I envisage a weaving line down into the next canyon.
Hogeye Canyon means a hungry traveler in a maze of gouged rock. Well, I don’t know what the hell the name of the canyon means. That’s just my guess. Maybe there’s a rock with a hog eye shape, maybe it’s greed, or gluttony. I am back in my muck feeling undeserved of such lonesome beauty, of this absolute free time. Either way the sun is setting and as I trudge down the sandy wash floor the walls change from beehive domes to blood red turrets to underhanging alcoves. Reluctantly I set up camp in the wash bed. I lost track of time as the walls sucked away the remains of the day and hid the moonlight. On my belly in the sand, under my head lamp, I observed the insects of the night. The daddy long legs the most abundant, all moving quickly with intent, kept trundling over my quilt. Cricket shadows appearing menacingly under my light, looking more mean than brittle. Then, the crickets would flicker away faster than a blink. I saw a spider dig out from a divot in the sand, it’s spindly legs poking out and shoveling sand aside, such a monumental effort for such a tiny and airy arachnid. I could see a couple sand grains covering the spider’s head and the spider sidled in a circle for a couple seconds. Other micro spiders crawled on and around my shoes, which held as a prop for my head. A few wind scorpions zipped around scouring the sand for other insects to rip in half. My head wiggled trying to follow the frantic trail of the wind scorpion. A tiger beetle moved furtively under my quilt. I moved the beetle away and watched it climb back over the coral sand back towards me. Must be my warmth, which is why I felt reluctant to camp in the wash.
In the night, down the canyon channel, the wind woke me, as the sand pelted my tarp. I slunk into my quilt further but I only sweated under this warm night. I put another hood on. By the morning, the ubiquitous sand had etched in my forehead creases. The wind howled so loud as dawn began to dimly light the rosy kayenta walls. So, I sprang up and walked under headlamp. I scouted the ledges for glowing eyes. None to see. I only gathered my crunching steps that broke the quiet. The wind stopped as the canyon squeezed. Only the sound of trickling water and my deep breaths persisted in the hollowed subway alcoves.
I tumbled back into the Paria, much distance away, a vast gap of time and space, since my last visit back in May. Really, not that long ago physically, however, emotionally a million miles away. The last time I waded in the Paria my granny had passed. Now, the canyon much wider, the walls and cliffs less smooth yet more worn and messy, I sloshed up cold waters and lumbered in concrete feet. I promised aloud in a raspy, wind-scorn whisper that one day I will name something after this river, Paria.
The pink candle towers of Bryce burned with the melting fervor of time running out. Maybe this is where my head suave shifted. I drifted off and began to organize my adventure fantasies, which brought me out of the present moment. I stared blankly up at the pink cliffs, the sprouted turrets a frozen ooze in time, my tick tock as brittle as the brutal wind, my candle burning down to a beautiful red and orange and pink melted stump. As much as the trail undulated like an EKG chart I could hear my heart beat as I trundled up foot paths worn out over the ages, this fragile rock in this particular area eroded so often I imagined myself in a dark room with thousands of burning candles getting ever closer to the curtains. This place is constantly alive yet as seemingly weak and fragile the pulse feels I can feel the willingness to change, to be something different day after day. I pushed hard through the constant undulations, focused yet distant, alive yet unconditioned to the fragility of the wax around the flammable wick. Around and under the rosy pink cliffs I hoofed it for miles. Temps plummeted as evening arrived, as the brittle wind arrived. As evening arrived I abstained from my head lamp as the pink cliffs held the ember glow that lit my way. Spooky towers with gaunt jaws loomed above me with gravelly tongues of silt. Colder and colder I got but I had to push into the blackness as I tip toed along the car walk. What cold beauty and a rugged peacefulness enveloped me despite the rigors of an icy wind. Lights flickered in the distant horizon, tourists maneuvering highways between tourists destinations. I found a narrow ridge with ponderosa pine coverage and hastily, yet calmly set up my shelter with frozen hands. My hands clinched up and stung with the cold. I had to shelve my gloves for dexterity, for this moment. Then, I hammered in my spikes with a blunt rock. By the time I got to my last 3 stakes I could hardly take the grip of the rock anymore with one hand. I resorted to using 2 hands as I contemplated quickly in using my fists as a hammer. I had to get systematic. The wind gusted, the cold persevered, and I translated systematically what I needed to do in my head to what I needed to do right there under my tarp: gloves on first, put bottom layers on, (blow on hands, put hands back into crotch), put top layers on, (blow on hands, put hands back into crotch), blow up sleeping pad, get in sleeping quilt, (blow on hands, put hands back into crotch), eat, then crouch into my ‘cold position’ for optimum warmth, my hands now permanent tucked into my crotch. The wind careened through the small gap under my tarp, the wind whistled from my cover under my quilt. I felt protected, warm.
My heartbeat has been keeping me up at night. Thump thump, thump thump. As a child I confused my heartbeat with a rustling of footsteps outside my window or coming down the hallway. I positioned my bed accordingly to keep an eye on things. I scared myself with my heartbeat. For years I could not place the noise to the blood pumping through my heart. I slept catty corner to the window in my room, while at the same time I could spot the entry of the door. Eventually as I grew older I got accustomed to the thump thump. Finally, a college girlfriend told me my heartbeat kept her up, that my heartbeat even shook the bed. Now, under the expansive night sky I feel the pump of my heart rattling my sleeping pad, more so now than usual. Maybe it is the quiet out here, the solitude and silence. But I feel something inside brewing up. Plans and ideas boiling, dreams and adventures coursing through my veins, my craving, my curiosity is getting greater that I feel it through my body.
Yet these thumps took me out of the moment. The scenery became less challenging, bland almost, easy, and I became anxious in planning, getting back to work to work for those dreams I have, to make them real. This bland feeling was brief, however. I became self-aware of this negative thought process. It is easy to get antsy, to look too far ahead. Easily enough what seems easy can turn into worry, or anxiety. While sometimes I believe it is a necessary component of growth to have these check points, I know I could not spot these events without the catalyst and meditative rhythms of walking. As much as you can physically move, the movement on the inside can get just as dammed up as idleness. While my thump thumps signify a growing and boiling passion, this needs to be in unison with the blood pumping through the heart, those veins.
I tempered my emotions and the negative thought process on a road walk into Zion National Park. A major rock slide in late August had closed my foot path access in the park. So, as I watched hordes of cars pass me I felt the twinge and squint of a worn wanderer paint my face. This is who I am and I will stand tall. Perplexed looks and glares from roadside tourists fixated on me. But, I am used to it. This is normal not being on a common path, which usually I am not. On the park shuttle that took me to Springdale for my resupply, I crammed in with the others. While I tried to abscond from getting too deep and stood in the front, I regretted the stench emanating from clothes. I could now pick apart the stench from the sunscreen lotion odor, the deodorants and detergents emanating from the tourists. Tourists poked at their phone and poked at their camera on their phone taking pictures of the blurred surrounding steep canyon landscape as the shuttle lumbered towards town. ‘Experience’ is the word that came to mind. I earned this fuckin’ stench. I could not fathom standing right there in the crowded shuttle to experience something as a passenger watching stuff pass on by. I could not fathom experiencing something in a blurry second. Will not they feel the biting cold, the heart throbs of the night, the gasping of the night air careening through an empty abyss, the melting candle towers of pink cliffs resplendent in alpenglow emanating the conclusion of a theatrical performance; will they not feel exhausted, the dry skin that tears at your heels, will they not feel the heart throb of fear of a wandering mind wondering when will I move, when will I feel the rhythm of a settled haze in a dusty basin, the core of rock shedding skin forming a calloused heart and a weathered mind, an eroded soul.
On a vista, overlooking domes, pinnacles and walls of slickrock I got caught doing a little shimmy. I had not been used to seeing other people out here. I could see me end point some 125 bendy miles away. A couple, out pretty far for a day hiking loop, caught me in mid-shimmy. The gal asked if I wanted a photo taken of me. In a flash I could imagine my tall and lanky self, gaunt and hairy face, forcing out a smile, looking happy like all these other people out here. As quick as the flash came the flash went. In my best Liam Neeson voice I blurted out wryly, ‘Oh no, no no no, lookit this face. I don’t do photos,’ my index finger pointing at my mug. The couple laughed and I jogged off. Really, I hoped I brought them ‘The Laugh of the Day.’
Once in the foothills of the Pine Valley Range I found again the limited and precious isolation of space and time. No other track of people, the days near split in half with light and darkness, my brain mode teetering that same equinox: work and play. Change became imminent. Decomposed granite boulders sprinkled the pointy knolls like a dry cupcake. Manzanita and gambel oak smothered the hillsides, even choking whatever path that held visible. Fire scarring showed the less greenish shrubbery showed an estimation of that particular fire scarring. One more recent than others, one more widespread than the other, one stopped at a craggy ridge line, another stopped at a rock choked ravine. I could visualize the character of the terrain from the past fires to symbolize where the water flows and where the shadows reside in lush nooks. I scrambled through the thick and annoying brush that clawed at my shins, the trail obliterated. Some game trail branched off only to end shortly, the undercarriage too short to crawl through and just the right height to inhibit stepping over. The brush anchored in the decomposed soil stoutly, the spindly branches whipped back after each bend; I fucking fought my way through. Mileage exhaustively slowed down to a mile and a half per hour. In a wash I found big bear track, large paws punched fresh through the grit. Low in elevation under the towering cliffs thousands of feet above me, I wondered how far below the bear wandered. What image could I hold of the bear in these footprints ambling down the rough wash. What hunger in his belly. His direction must be food based. His footprints a reflection of his behavior. I continued fighting through the brush leading the charge with my shins going over ridge and ridge all leading counter to the flow I was traveling.
A shadow is still a reflection. The shadow is the reflection we have yet to see clearly. A shadow, in this instant, is aspiring growth, a faraway plateau of spiritual movement, a mirage of movement towards the oasis of soul replete. In my rear view I can see the soul of the past, like this crossing of the Mojave Desert in a car that brings back endless childhood memories of my granny, that seed of wandering planted over the empty Mojave, scorned and barren, filled with an invisible life. Or looking back to the slickrock domes of the red rock desert, while looking forward toward the basin and range. My shadow from last Winter has slunk to a basin filled with humidity. Over the next ridge I am consumed by the shadow the mountains cast. One side and the other, one moment in shadow, the other in shine, both juxtaposed in shadow reflections, the cycle of letting shit be, the plunder of the movement of light.
My first three images of a wanderer occurred when I was very young. One is of a friend of my mom and her second husband, Cade. I was really young, like 5 or 6. Cade, in my blurry memory, was lanky and tall, odd. He rode his bike from Burbank to Las Vegas seemingly on a whim to me, for no reason at all. Every time we traversed the Mojave I wondered what route he took, how he felt, what he saw. Like that bear track I scienced his behavior, hypothesizing is urge, his whim, his hunger.
Another image is more of a secondhand memory told to me by my mom and related to me by my granny. My dad would hang around literally and lounge up in avocado trees. He would walk places locally up in the Verdugo Hills around Burbank. Ultimately my main image of him is pushing a shopping cart, half his normal body size, disheveled and bushy, facing north, banished.
The most important image, surprisingly, is of Bruce Banner, the character Bill Bixby played on the television show The Incredible Hulk. At the end of each episode, Banner would be seen from behind walking along a highway headed outside of a town, his clothes tattered, his face worn with the scarrings of the wounds of others around him. This is my interpretation etched within me, a shadow reflection of a wounded boy.
I feel this way—-in the Zion shuttle, along a shoulder of a highway, or in a dark canyon navigating by moonlight, or meandering through sagebrush on a open desert steppe. I am never escaped by this, this pothole that holds a shadowless shadow of reflection. And when I envision myself, my visage, I see my back going forward rather than the other way around. You won’t see my face, I won’t see my face, for the scars are too many. Yet I see the shadow on the other side of the mountain on an early morning dusky movement of light. I strive for that movement, ever forward, to attain the other side and cast that shadow back on the other side of where my footprints stain reflection that solely is erasable by the winds of time.