About thirty minutes ago I gave myself the choice of spending the afternoon finishing Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, watching an afternoon NFL football game, or–now that summer appears over–putting up some final summer flower photos. I think the novel is wonderful, but it is too emotionally challenging for me today. I love football, but I was in the stands when Michigan beat Maryland yesterday; that is enough. So, I am posting some photos. With them, I send my (still) hopeful wishes for us all.
I began teaching composition approximately 45 years ago. In all that time, I am not sure that I managed to help many novice writers become more effective writers of expository prose. However, I did read hundreds of essays and write many comments. Over the decades, I found that the same few bits of advice remained constant: narrow and focus the topic, have a clear thesis, give specific examples, and do not overstate.
I am thinking of about expository prose today because I am struggling (again) with my own writing. How will I be able to distill a six week road trip into a narrow and focused thesis-driven post that includes specific examples and which does not overstate? I don’t know–maybe I won’t be able to manage it–but I can comfort myself with a bulleted list. I don’t understand writing, but I do believe words have power.*
- Our Route: Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia
- Birds: I hauled along my new binoculars (see Vision Quest), but I didn’t use them much. The binoculars seem a little heavy around my neck and they annoy me when they bang on my chest when I walk. Still, I think I spotted a few golden eagles this trip, and perhaps a bald eagle. We saw hawks, Steller’s jays, a red-headed woodpecker in Wind Cave National Park, a hairy woodpecker in City of Rocks National Reserve, and more.
- Favorite Set of Facts: “Roosevelt credited his Dakota experiences as the basis of his ground-breaking preservation efforts and the shaping of his own character. As president 1901-09, he translated his love of nature into law. He established the US Forest Service and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 national monuments. He worked with Congress to create five national parks, 150 national forests, and dozens of federal reserves–over 230 million acres of protected land” (From the National Park Service information pamphlet for Theodore Roosevelt National Park).
- Not narrowed, not focused, not in proper order, but here is my thesis: We traveled home the whole six weeks of our journey.
- Home was with my brothers and sisters-in-law. We visited them in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan at the beginning of the journey. Later on, we were lucky to be able to travel in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah with two of these dear ones.
- Home was with our friends in Salt Lake City and near Cromberg, CA.
- Walking through mountains, forests, prairies, and canyons felt like home.
- I am from Michigan: Water has always felt like home to me.
- North Rim and Zion: it was old home week for the soul.
- Kind strangers we met along the way made us feel at home. (Tom just suggested that I need to be more specific. Haha, see one of the bits of advice, above. I am talking about the bellman at North Rim, the tour bus driver in Zion, the server at the Duluth Grill, fellow hikers on the trail, people in line at the Huron Mountain Bakery in Marquette and many others.
- Tom and I were on the road again, but we were at home together.
*NOTE: Because of the ongoing Kavanaugh debacle (my home is about 4.5 miles by foot from the U.S. Congress), I am somewhat sad and angry today. Thinking and writing about beautiful places, family, and friends helps me feel somewhat hopeful.
Yes, I am at the Mirage in Las Vegas this afternoon. It seems like an accurate name to me: This place is just a mirage to me. The North Rim is what is real to me. I remember again the words of J.W. Powell in his The Exploration of the Colorado and Its Canyons:
Still farther east is the Kaibab Plateau [including the North Rim], culminating table-land of the region. It is covered with a beautiful forest, and in the forest charming parks are found. Its southern extremity is a portion of the wall of the Grand Canyon….Here antelope feed and many a deer goes bounding over the fallen timber. In winter deep snows lie here, but the plateau has four months of the sweetest summer man has ever known. (p. 102)
Tom and I like to go on road trips. We are on a road trip now. In the 25 days since we began this journey we have:
- stopped in Pittsburgh to see our son Robert (Rebekah was working). Note: We saw Billy and Sarah and Mike before we started out. We just wanted to tell our children, “we love you.”
- visited my dear brothers and sisters-in-law (in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan).
- camped above the Straits of Mackinac and took the ferry to Mackinac Island.
- smelled forest fire smoke through Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah.
- visited the Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, S.D. (Little House aficionados: we camped by the slough)
- we took an “easy” 3.4 mile hike at Wind Cave National Park and discovered that all of our city walking really wasn’t the same as hiking a rocky track on a warm, sunny afternoon.
- we listened to an Oglala Lakota NPS ranger from Wounded Knee tell us a strong story about the importance of naming. From now on, for us, Devils Tower is Bear Lodge.
Note: I have many more items for this bulleted list, but I will continue it another time soon.
We are old now, but Tom and I like to keep traveling on. Now, the early mornings are cold (unless we are staying in a motel). We don’t even light the camp stove. We drink our coffee cold.
We keep traveling on because we want to see the country and family and friends along the way–while we are still on this side of the great divide. We want to keep learning. We see, listen, touch, and smell the beauty all around us.
Here are a few photos:
Excuses Although it is March, I still haven’t transferred all of my phone numbers, passwords, and other data from my 2017 Audubon Birder’s Engagement Calendar to my 2018 Audubon Birder’s Engagement Calendar. This transfer usually happens early in January (see Old Year, New Year: Flexibility, Part 3). Part of the delay may simply be that there is so much minutia scrawled in the 2017 book that I am daunted by the task of transferring it to the new book.
I think the real reason might be more fundamental, though. I have been sitting here — each day at once agitated and inert–waiting to see what happens next to our country. My own version of Potomac fever, I am afraid. And I am afraid: I used to tell my children that our country had had difficult times before and had gotten through it. Now, I believe the current regime and its attendant problems are by far the worst in my lifetime. I went to one march so far this year and will soon go to another. I sign petitions. I walk. I do my weights and stretches, and sometimes I even do my planks. I photograph flowers and trees. On TV, I watch cooking shows and basketball games. I think spring is coming. I believe my hibernation is ending and my hope is growing.
Happy Interlude In early February, Tom and I camped for three nights in the Big Cypress National Preserve and for one night in Everglades National Park. We saw alligators and manatees; anhingas and egrets, mangrove islands and dolphins, and much more.
Spring is Coming Wood frogs are mating in vernal pools here in Arlington, Virginia. Salamanders are on the move. Daffodils are blooming and so is the witch hazel and some forsythia. Almost two weeks ago a cherry tree was blossoming at Arlington National Cemetery. Tourist groups are massing on the National Mall. I think it is time to put aside my 2017 almanac and rejoin this year, this fight, and this life.
Staircase to Heaven, again
1972–1973 (North Rim and environs)
Did I ever tell you about the time I got dropped off at Pipe Springs National Monument? I was on my way from the North Rim to my friend Anita’s wedding reception in Salt Lake City. Someone drove me to Pipe Springs–on the Arizona Strip–87 miles from the Grand Canyon Lodge where I worked. I tried to hitch a ride from Pipe Springs to Cedar City, Utah so I could catch a plane to Salt Lake. At least back then, Arizona State Road 389 was not a well traveled road.
After some time, Pipe Springs National Monument closed for the day. It got dark and I felt forlorn and probably a little scared. I settled down in the ditch beside the road. I wasn’t about to take my chances standing on the side of the road through the night. I worried some and I slept some. Morning came, someone picked me up, and I made my flight to Salt Lake and the wedding reception. I was an idiot back then, no doubt, but all that expansive sky, sand, canyons, and forests made me feel that all was possible, all was good, and I would not be harmed.
Angry and sad aside: Most of my life now, this Grand Staircase, this Colorado Plateau, has been for me not only the land of the beautiful, but also of the good and hospitable. I want to scream and cry and kick and yes, hate, as I see people and entities want to destroy this land. I don’t do those things: I am still trying for the beautiful and good.
So many more stories to tell, but I think I am finished for now. I wanted to tell you about Hop Valley, the double rainbows on the snowy road to Bryce, pine nut gathering at Cape Royal, the smell of the ponderosas in the sunlight, and Chesler Park in late winter.
Now, I will march, I will sign petitions, I will walk. In the end of summer, we may be at North Rim again, and, in November I will vote.
Thank you for listening.
Here are some photos:
I have been putting off writing this post about the Grand Staircase. Photos are easy, but sometimes words are hard for me.
This morning I have Windexed the living room table (where we leave smears when we eat in front of the TV). I’ve washed a load of clothes and I am about ready to put them into the dryer. I’ve put two applesauce cakes in the oven (from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book ). I feel comfortable and happily domestic. Even so, somewhere inside, I am afraid that the despoilers of the land will win this battle of the Grand Staircase and Bears Ears and the others. I am sad and angry because I don’t think my words or photos can change the minds of those ones. I will try the words anyhow.
Three days later: My words still haven’t found their way to the computer. I sit in my living room chair. Through my window, I watch the winter silver Potomac flow in the distance. Like most people I know, my heart weeps and my mind hurts. More hate, more racism, more lies spew from our country’s White House. So many things to grieve about and to fight for, where should I begin?
I know. I look around our room and I see the huge blue and pink(ish) map: “The Colorado Plateau and Its Drainage.” Tom bought the map for me about 18 years ago, when I briefly had a job with an office and benefits. To the left of the map are two bookcases, a Navajo rug, and a poster of Zion National Park, “Celebrating a Century of Sanctuary 1909-2009.” On the walls closer to me are the Thomas Moran print of Indian Gardens from our friend Laura, a painting of Hopi basket designs by our friend Sally, and many other talismans. Enough for now: Like a movie, the sun just broke through the clouds a tiny bit. I will try my words again.
Now, it looks like I have too many words. Here are some more. I will stop soon.
1958 (?) I saw it on Mickey Mouse Club, I think.
I felt sad when I saw and heard a piece on TV about a river that was going to be dammed and a canyon that would disappear. I saw a fabulous rock called Rainbow Bridge. I felt sad until the feelings were buried. Only decades later, I uncovered this memory and realized I had loved this land of the Colorado River Plateau 12 years before I ever even saw it.
1970 (My spring and summer in Zion National Park)
- One of my Mormon friends, told me that if one prayed earnestly—some lines from The Book of Alma in The Book of Mormon—one would hear a response from God. I remember trying this praying somewhere up the canyon side not far from Emerald Pools. I thought I prayed earnestly, but I heard nothing. Well, I heard something. It was the tranquility, power, and beauty emanating from the land, sky, and water. Then, and, onward through the years, I became increasingly comfortable with my being a secular humanist nature-lover.*
- After hours of walking, my coworker and friend Pat and I finally came across the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. At least one source says the park is 12 miles from Highway 89 to the dunes. No wonder it seemed so long to us tenderfoots. After Pat and I clambered around on the dunes, we settled down for the night. We had trouble opening up the can of peaches we brought, and I think we finally drank the juice through the little opening we had somehow managed to make. I don’t remember what else we ate or tried to eat. One more thing we didn’t know about the desert—at least at 6000 feet elevation in April—was that it was cold. Because we were freezing, we were wakeful through the night. We shivered all night inside our cheap sleeping bags, but, set down, this set down, I saw the starry sky I have never forgotten. The stars in that desert night sky have been the standard by which I have watched every night sky since and none have surpassed or even matched it. When I read the environmental news, I think maybe our atmosphere is now sufficiently polluted that no one can have the gift again of that starry sky. Magi or no, magic or no, god or no, I thank those stars I was lucky enough to see.*
- Third person in line on a hike along Taylor Creek in Zion’s Kolob, a rattlesnake warned me. I had never heard the rattle before, but I knew the sound. I have always tried to be careful.
- Losing my way on my first hike and wandering to the rock face of the Watchman, The Narrows, West Rim Trail, and much more.
1971 (North Rim and environs)
- Tom and I thought we might go to Page on our day off. I don’t recall why we wanted to go to Page. Page is 123 miles from the North Rim and we had no car, but we weren’t daunted; the North Rim is a long way from everywhere. We were hitchhiking and there wasn’t much traffic. It took hours, but we finally got past Jacob Lake and off the Kaibab Plateau. We were picked up by a young Navajo family and we got to ride in the back of their pickup. It was night by the time we got to Page. It was not much of a town, and all I remember is the crazy lady who was walking around the streets talking to herself. I felt uncomfortable and sad about her. Tom, as he has in such situations since then, just felt a kindly empathy for the woman. I don’t know where or if we slept and I don’t remember how we got back to the rim in time for work the next afternoon, but it was the start of a long journey for us together.*
- I never made it to Calf Creek Falls. A coworker Ariane and I drove in her Datsun from North Rim toward Boulder, Utah. The water came down in torrents from the fresh falls streaming off the cliffs and from the sky itself. A large boulder fell a car length and a second or two ahead. We survived, unscathed–just. We turned around and drove to the low bridge that spanned Calf Creek. The flash flood drove the brown water far above the bridge. The rain and then the creek subsided. We got a room, probably in Escalante. I haven’t gotten back to Calf Creek yet, but I still hope to.
1972 — 2014: Too many years and too many stories
- I have to stop for now. If I write too many words, I don’t think people want to read them.
- If I keep thinking of this hike or that story or that friend, my mind lives too much in the past.
- If I write too much, I worry too much about what is going to happen to our wonderful land.
- If I stop worrying or writing, I think the the vandals might win. So, I will be back soon.
- Tomorrow, though, I will contemplate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr, the hero of my youth.
*(adapted from Losing It: Deconstructing a Life, unpublished work © Lynda Terrill, all rights reserved)