Growing up, my mother was the the grade school librarian at my elementary school. That meant we all rode to school together. Some of my earliest memories are staring out the window of my mother's bright green Volkswagon Bug, the glass webbed with winter ice, and listening to a book on tape. My mother's most beloved tape was the one of Coleman Barks reading his translations of Rumi. Imagine that, riding to fifth grade every day, before the sun has even risen, listening to a fourteenth century Sufi poet.
Recently, I went on a trip to Southern Utah to visit an old friend of mine and I was thinking a lot about the origins of things. It's impossible to ignore the origins of the Earth as we know it when you're sliding your way through slot canyons. I was in a place where you can hear the echo of your own breath melding with the tremor of a river below your feet. A place where you can physically see the striations of the earth and observe the imprints of pressure and magma on stone.
Jake and our friend, Michael, picked me up from the airport and we drove to Meadow Hot Springs in the middle of nowhere, Utah. When we pulled onto the dirt road at dusk, I saw an owl float by, its huge wing span overtaking the road--low and hunting. The hot springs were isolated and strange. I left like I was in the little mermaid or peter pan, swimming in a lagoon below a full moon. Shelves of rock jutted out from the sides of the pool below the surface of the water, like mushrooms from trees. Each concealed another floor, another cavern. No one knew how deep the pools went. Some said forty feet. In the darkness, I dove until my ears popped and I quickly realized I'm too old for all the stupid shit I used to pull. Don't dive into dark pools in an attempt to discover a bottom that can't be seen or felt. Dark water seemed to extend to infinity. To eat at my toes, swallow my body up to my ears.
The next day, we wandered up old canyon roads and high into seams of red stone. The roads were slick with mud and melted snow and Michael sat in the backseat, terrified as we jolted over rocky pits. We came across Kanarraville Falls, a long hike up into a slot canyon, traversing rivers of snow melt, climbing tenuous metal ladders into eerie and looming caverns. Very much like The Narrows, this hike was far superior because they were fewer people and in just a short time you were within high, canyon walls.
This trip confirmed that I thrive when I'm in the middle of nowhere. I'm happiest on long stretches of road and sunsets that you can watch from beginning to end. But what I didn't fully understand until now is this: of course. This makes sense. As a child, my mother took us on road trips that lasted months. We camped in all the states that no one ever explores and yet, she found a way to make those places beautiful. Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Indiana, New Mexico, camping on the beach in California, walking the frigid Oregon coast, hiking through a forest reminiscent of the Land Before Time.
Sometimes I'm so busy looking at the world through a lens of lack. I see only the things I believe I missed. All the ways I wish my life had gone differently. I'm so focused on the vacancy that I forget--my mother took me to every western state and most midwestern ones all by herself. It's only now that I wonder, was she ever afraid? Was she ever lonely? What was it like to cart two young girls in a tiny car across wide open spaces? There was no one else to take the wheel when she was tired, to help her out when she got lost.
Once again, the cliche thing is often the most true. I spend so much of my life questing after what I believe I'm missing. Striving, sometimes impossibly, for what I long for but isn't best for me. But rarely do I ever see the wonder, the beauty of this existence I've been gifted. This country that contains more than I ever give it credit for. This body that can carry me longer than I ever expect. This mother who gave me the road.
Every person has their own origin. And just like those canyons we hiked--each human is built on layers of upheaval. Tectonic movement lives within us, stratums of life history. Slit us open and you can see our growth like the red sediment compounded within those canyon walls. Whoever said building caverns that contain rivers and birds, rocks and humans, would be clean?
Growth fractures. And yet, look at what is revealed between all those fissures.
Is it any wonder I love words--when this woman taught me to love poetry before I knew I was capable of loving anything else? Is it any wonder I love roaming--or surviving isolated landscapes--when my mother introduced me to this loneliness and made it feel like home?