Tag Archives: outdoors

finger rock

Finger Rock is a lean, delicate spire, daintily extending out of the craggy Santa Catalina mountain skyline as though it were a little girl’s pinky finger counterbalancing an invisible porcelain tea-cup. This feature can capture the eye from almost anywhere in Tucson, including my driveway. Many novice day hikers have tasted the bitter tang of regret when they realize that the popular Finger Rock trail they have been huffing up for the past 2 hours doesn’t actually bring them to Finger Rock, which after getting closer, closer, slinks out of view like a beautiful stranger at a cocktail party. But for the intrepid, she is reachable; for those that wish to ascend her, 100 feet of easy technical climbing is the reward after hours hiking up the steep, loose approach. And once you make it to the top, standing on a shifty summit flake, you can regard magnificent views of the shimmering Tucson valley below, or the limitless bowl of azure sky above.

But here’s the disclaimer: I’ve never climbed Finger Rock. I’ve never breathed hard on the challenging ascent, skin burning where the ubiquitous shin daggers drew blood. My eager, calloused fingertips have yet to explore her contours, her secret holds.  I have yet to balance on that unstable summit flake, sweat and satisfaction dripping off me in equal volumes. I’ve dreamed of this adventure through. You see, I’m an untalented if enthusiastic rock climber; I am the kind of hiker that’s happiest if the journey takes all day. In short, it would be the perfect adventure for a person like me.

Or, to be more accurate: would have been a perfect adventure for someone like I was.

I shrug away the longing as I unload groceries from my Subaru, my newborn daughter snoozing in the backseat. A year ago, Finger Rock seemed like an ambitious-but-feasible Saturday plan; now it sounds as remote as visiting the moon. I can hardly manage a trip to the rock climbing gym for a few hours, certainly not an all-day excursion up a mountain. Overweight, overwrought and over-tired, my muscles have atrophied, my ambitions to climb mountains transformed into the goal of just trying to get to the goddamn grocery store. I am soft where I used to be hard. I am stretched where I used to be comfortable. I am winded where I used to be strong.

My daughter frowns, half-awake and smacking her lips. I slide her out of her car seat. She is all warmth and softness; we exhale in the sweet relief it is to be holding, to be held by. Her eyes, twin glacial pools, have started to focus on the world around her and she takes a moment to regard the mesquite tree in our yard. I bring her to my breast after I take a seat on the red Adirondack chair jauntily positioned on the front porch, Finger Rock still squarely in my line of sight. She latches on and I breathe in. She is exquisite. I feel the full, ridiculous weight of the love which flash flooded my life the moment I gave birth a few months ago and somehow keeps rushing and rushing from an invisible, inexhaustible spring.

Even in this sublime moment, my eyes flicker north, to Finger Rock. I am content, yet somewhere inside of me a wild cat paces in a secret jungle, silent, patiently insistent. She can wait, she will wait, but she claims the right to remind me of a different path, the wilder world beyond caregiving. No matter how sweet the gifts of mothering a newborn may be, her shadow makes me tingle, a specter from my old life of physicality, of independence, of wildness. She reminds me of dreams I’m not sure even make sense anymore. Afterall, I’m still figuring out this new landscape since my entire life blew open with the birth of my daughter. In many ways I feel like a stranger to myself, my new world a drawn-out zen koan. Opposites find symbiosis; contradictions are the norm. I have never felt weaker, and I have never felt stronger. I am contentedly consumed by caring for this precious and demanding newborn, yet I miss my old life, with all its adventures and micro freedoms. I fantasize about rocks I haven’t climbed, may never climb, and perhaps these flights are sustaining a part of me through this time of early parenting. Or maybe I’m engaged in a reflex fantasy, simply playing out old thought patterns, scratching old itches. Maybe that life is over.

But I don’t think so.The ground under a mother’s foot is never solid, after all. I feel myself sinking as soggy sand beneath me is sucked into the tide. I wobble and catch my balance as I stand on the shoreline of mystery, waves lapping around my ankles. What is true today ceases to exist tomorrow. My daughter is growing, the days are getting shorter, and everything changes, but there is so much more possibility balled into each and every moment than most of us dare to realize. The same miraculous force that pulled me off the mountain to nurse a baby on an Adirondack chair may one day push me back up into the wilderness. And these dreams are the red thread tying together then and now, proof that something original remains after the cracking, the flooding, knitting together a changed woman, a brave new mother in a soggy, strange world.

 

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This post took me ages to write- another casualty of new parenthood, I suppose. My baby is one year old now. I still haven’t climbed Finger Rock. But I haven’t stopped gazing at her and dreaming of the day.

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the lesson of Yellowstone

If you have been there, you understand.  You have breathed the sulfurous aroma near the geysers and gasped at the wildlife and crunched lodgepole pine needles beneath your feet and smiled, transfixed the intoxicating combination of the timeless and transient in this very special place. I was recently in Yellowstone with my family, and it is everything that has ever been said and more. It is that great.

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The visitation happened at the Mud Volcano. It was a relatively warm day, and between the geothermal heat and foul odors belching from fumaroles, it wasn’t entirely pleasant to stand near the features. My 7-year-old niece was crying from the bad smells, while the older girl, a Chinese exchange student, said wistfully “I wish I could see a bison right now!”

And then he appeared, a solo bull, lumbering towards the Black Dragon’s Cauldron, emerging through the steam from the mudpot. He approached the banks of boiling, murky water and stood silently appraising his onlookers, the only perceptible movement being an occasional swish of the tail. The chatter of the crowd died off  to murmur and an occasional, breathy oh, wow.  

His eyes were shiny, black orbs, and I felt as though he was gazing at my very soul. I saw myself as if through the eyes this enormous creature, a survivor, one of the few of his kind which continue to roam in the wilds of the American West.  In the act of releasing that which I loved the most, have been driven nearly mad with sadness. Loss has broken my heart into a million pieces that rattle like bones in the quiet of the night.  I am not often the stoic bison, gazing upon the loss of my kind with an accepting tail swish.  I am hurt, I am angry, I fight futile wars which leave me depleted and even more brokenhearted.  

But still, somehow, I am okay. And so are you. This is the message I received from the bison on that hot afternoon in Yellowstone.  Change is constant, loss is inevitable, and sometimes even the earth beneath our feet can feel unstable, volatile. Our vision may become clouded by the smoke from fiery destruction, the steam from cooking up a new life, a new beginning. Sometimes, our heart hurts. But in the end, we somehow find wholeness in our losses.  We have, as living beings on earth, inherited the legacy of courageous survival.

where I lived

I used to live in a track home outside of town, on land freshly poached from the desert. Like a number of choices made at age 24, it isn’t a decision I would repeat; this was life in the country without the benefits of country life. There were the long commutes, the automotive expenses, the 15 miles to the grocery store. My bedroom window stared into my neighbors’.  I had a tiny yard that was mostly composed of a pile of rocks.  In a desperate move to beautify I tried to grow succulents on the rock pile, but the succulents would inevitably die off, exposing the truth that, no, there’s no rock garden here, only an eyesore.

I moved to that house having only lived in a very urban environment.  At first it seemed strange, but I grew to love both the silence and the sounds. The coyotes would sing at night over the howling wind. I would run in the darkness of the early morning with the milky way shining down upon me and hear owls flapping their wings as they hunted their prey. Hoo, hoo.  

I now live in a central part of the city, and the constant, bustling noise grates on my nerves.  I run on asphalt with no owls in sight, only pigeons. I appreciate being able to bike to work, to walk to a grocery store, but I seek out quiet corners of the city in which to recharge. I miss the roadrunners, the quail, the hawks soaring ahead.  I miss the forests of ocotillo, reaching towards looming mountains above. My happiest moments are when I’m outside of the city limits, on a hill overlooking the twinkling lights, or camping in a forest somewhere.

Turns out I’m a bit of a country girl, afterall.

dreams while camping

Last night, I dreamed my mother was dying.  She lied unconscious in her bed, with ragged breathing.  I told her family and friends that this was it, in the matter of a few hours, or a few days at most, she would be gone.

And then she woke up.

She strolled into her kitchen looking as good as she ever did in life.  Radiant.  Beautiful.  My first words to her were not “I love you!” or “I’m so happy to see you!”  They were “you were dying!”

She just laughed at me, shaking her head as though she couldn’t believe I could be so silly to think she could be dying.

She hugged her friends and family.  Everyone rejoiced.

And then she turned yellow, thin.  She took to her bed.  Once again, she was dying.

I woke up from this dream at sunrise in the forest.  A grey light had seeped into the tent. It was so quiet, I could hear my own breathing.

And my mother is still dead.  There is no happy ending to the dream, but maybe there is a message.  My predictions, my ambitions, my rages mean nothing. There is only what is. I cannot create, or alter, but I can accept. but I can accept. In a way, I am helpless but I am also empowered.  To enjoy the beauty of life, of the now.  Of my breath warming the sides of the tent, collecting into sparkling drops of condensation.  Of the grey light, snaking its way through the pines.

 

 

 

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Roper Lake. May, 2012.

We are going camping!

I don’t know how two people who hate/hated camping gave birth to me, a person who is hard pressed to think of anything she loves more than waking up in a tent. But it happened. I am not my mother nor my father’s daughter in this regard.

I didn’t really go camping until I was 16. Sometimes is terrifies me to think I could have continued on that path, never knowing these things about myself:

I need to breathe air cleansed by the wild. I need to feel the warmth of the fire, and of my sleeping bag. I need the quiet.

I am grateful to those that brought me outside and showed me the door to discovering who I am. I hope I would have figured it out eventually. But you never know.

Have a great weekend, dear readers. May you find a slice of your own heaven, whatever that looks like for you.