I spent half the day hiking this southern district of Canyonlands National Park and taking in the views of the rock formations, mesas and Colorado mountains in the background. The trails were short and sweet, and got me excited to see the other districts of the park.
A year ago on this date I was sleeping above a California desert valley, watching a cotton candy-pink lenticular cloud settle in above me. Tonight I’m sleeping outside again, in the high desert of Washington this time. And again I find myself boxed in by towering rock walls of ochre and brown.
The thing I like best about the Western third of America is how old everything out here feels.The earth has good bones here and the sky is close enough to the the ground that someone like me, who grew up in the tight spaces of the East, can’t help but notice it. (That you have to travel east from Seattle to get someplace that feels West is one of those little oddities I’ve accepted over the years.)
The canyon where I sleep tonight is no different. It is ancient, a product of time beyond my mind’s ability to reckon. Here a red boulder the size of a house perched alone on a green hillock, there a waterfall coursing its way down the path it carved for itself over the eons. It is old and big and leaves me plenty of space and time to think, which is the kind of place I like best.
One of the things I find myself thinking about is how funny the human brain can be. From my campsite, some distance away down the canyon, the waterfall above Dorothy Pool is little but background noise–so much so that its white hiss fades to nothing as soon as I look away and start thinking of other things. That my brain can tune out the noise of a million years, and that the noise can return full volume the second I remember its existence and turn my head toward it once more, is something of a marvel.
Rake and I scrambled to the top of the waterfall after an early lunch at its base. It was a split-second decision done for no reason other than the joy of the thing. Remember doing things for the joy of them alone? Before every deed and every adventure was framed as fodder for Instagram (or, hell, even a blog post)? I worry that I’ll lose that, the doing for the joy of doing rather than the pride of having done. (Fittingly–like the noise of the falls–the second I became conscious of this thought, I couldn’t let it go, and I made some mental notes for the blog and took a few pictures. Selah.)
But I want to return to joy for a second. Those pure, undiluted moments of joy are for me collected mostly through my reflections on childhood and all the grand things we did inside our small world long before any of us had the means to show or tell the world about the,. Wiffleball games played and trees climbed and creeks explored. It makes me sad for the 4th and 5th grade kids I interact with at work every week–that this has been taken away from them by what has been given to them. That they all seem to be social media experts already is troubling–how can you look back on being a kid with the rosy, sad sweetness we all deserve if you have pictures of every moment of it? It you replace the murky textures of memory with still, captured attempts to pause a life in motion?
I’m not anti-technology and I spend a fair bit (too much) of my own time using it. It’s just that today I wandered through the scrub desert with a bosom friend and watched four horses charge up the wall of a canyon while a haze of clouds settles across the sun. Things like that make me a kind of happy that is deeper and more complicated than the feelings I usually ascribe to that word. I am happy, truly, although today does feel like a carbon copy of the canyon day I spent with Ali just before I left last year. This is leaving weather, and I am happy and aching and lonely and content in a way that only leaving weather in a leaving place can make me.
As you enter Zion National Park from the east, Mt. Carmel Highway offers spectacular views and ever changing landscapes as you zig-zag your way down into the park’s canyon. Ian Barin captured this pic from above the winding road at sunset this past June. Photo courtesy of Ian Barin.