The other day at the grocery store the man behind me in line told me it was unusually busy because everyone’s trying to fill their emptiness with consumption. While I tend to agree with such sentiment I think it had more to do with the anticipation of more snow. People were simply stocking up.
He also told me he drinks two bottles of wine every night because he’s uninsured and can’t afford therapy, then asked me what my poison was. I didn’t have a good reply to his question. I looked in my basket and talked about what was in it instead. Honeycrisp apples, pecan halves, sunflower oil, greens and blueberries. He told me canola was the devil’s oil, but he’d never before cooked with sunflower oil. No poison here.
I envied the man’s lived in fantasy, that wine sufficed. I could smell the therapeutic work he’d been doing on himself before he mentioned it, the familiar, metallic sweetness that once emanated from me as well. Saturation on a cellular level. This made him my brother. (His being human alone made him my brother.) I wanted to hug him.
The holidays left me feeling like one giant blister. My therapist is out of town for the next month or longer and if wine worked none of this would be of concern to me. If wine worked, I never would have stopped.
What is my poison then? What am I left with? Snack cakes, seduction, caffeine, spending sprees, attention seeking.
When I got home I put my groceries away, laid across my bed and ate a Little Debbie.
This post is dedicated to my sweet friend Tommie Marshell. When I get stuck in my writing I just pretend I’m writing her and that’s pretty much what this is. Thanks, Tommie! ❤
I reactivated Instagram earlier this week after almost four months off, and all of my creative juices have been put towards getting “likes” instead of doing anything of merit or deeply satisfying like completing a writing project. And wow.
I heard somewhere that Instagram is designed with the same addictive specs in mind as slot machines in casinos. Wish I could cite the source of that information. It could have come to me in a dream for all I know. God- that’s who I’m citing. God told me. No, I heard it on a podcast. But maybe God was the guest on the podcast. Or maybe God spoke through the guest. Slightly more feasible. Or maybe I dreamt that I heard the podcast. Whatever. Shit’s addictive is the point.
I kicked things off by posting a couple pictures from my recent adventures in the Great American Southwest with some wordy, expressive captions and before I even got a single “like” it was back on as though I’d never left. People asked where I’d been and were happy to see me. I got over 100 likes on one of my posts. I’m not, like, famous or anything.
What even prompted me to re-activate my account after spending four peaceful months living simply in the world right in front of me? Honestly? I don’t want to be that honest right now.
I wanted to reveal myself in a controlled way to a person I recently met. Ah, gross!
Man, when does being a human ever start to feel comfortable?
See, social media allows me to carefully curate myself, highlighting everything cool and interesting while diminishing anything unflattering just enough to seem nearly perfect but still relatable and admirably “real.” It’s so much safer than a fumbling phone conversation in which I might say something asinine and reveal how much I don’t actually know about anything I pretend to know about otherwise. I needed to solidify my place in this person’s mind as someone worthy of time and attention before blowing it by being myself, unfiltered.
And that’s when I perused my account, to make sure I was indeed presenting a likable person on there, and found to my surprise that yeah, I’m kind of cool. Or at least on IG I am. Do you ever find yourself surprised by how much you don’t hate yourself? I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but on IG I am definitely my own cup of tea. Yes, I said that. Shoot me. No, seriously, shoot me.
I kind of loathe that I’m being so honest about all of this. Why am I giving away my secrets? Why do I feel compelled to come clean when I could simply stop without saying a word? Am I punishing myself? Atoning?
I keep talking about how I want to live a life of integrity but the more I learn what that means, the less I’m into it. I just want to live with enough to pass, you know? Can I keep my white lies and facades? My IG account? Please? I’ve spent a solid portion of my life trying to convince everyone I’m authentic and a good person, whatever that means. But in reality neither of those things are very fun or easy unless you’re Jesus or Oprah.
No, I really do want to live with all the integrity I can in every way that I can. For some reason. Though I’ve yet to collect enough evidence to be thoroughly convinced I have this idea that it will ultimately make my life better somehow. It’s just that I am so un-practiced at it that it’s embarrassing. I never realized how much I depend on being phony and low-key manipulative to account for what a regular old human I am before.
What makes my problematic use of social media somewhat difficult to address or talk about is that I don’t think I engage with it all that differently than most other than compulsively revising my captions throughout the day. From what I can tell it’s relatively common, if not the norm, to integrate social media into every aspect of your life, or rather- to integrate every aspect of your life into your social media. And whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the validation of receiving “likes” can be so fucking yummy. All that being said, normal use is not always equated with healthy use. Of anything.
But this is where perhaps I deviate from the norm.
I recently updated my iPhone and they’ve made it so you can limit your time on certain apps and what not. How nice of them. But does that work for people or am I a full blown addict? It worked for about an afternoon, part of a morning. You receive a reminder, a black icon of a hour glass, letting you know that you’re time is almost up. You decide in settings how much you want to a allot yourself on specific apps. When time is out, the icons for the applications you’ve selected for regulating are dimmed. If you try to open them a white screen pops up to let you know you’ve met your maximum but gives you the option of ignoring the lock-out for 15 minutes or, even better, for the rest of the day. How do you stop yourself from doing an additional 15 minutes and then eventually surrendering to the day?
It reminds me of when I would try to restrict myself to two glasses of wine a night. If I stayed within my confines I felt very accomplished and simultaneously tortured. Sometimes though I would find a work-around to my self-imposed limits like using my biggest wine glasses and filling them all the way to the brim. And I could still take pulls off the box-wine spigot all night, pouring it directly into my mouth like a frat boy with no fraternity because only the wine that makes it into a glass counted. More often than not, however, I would throw my hands up, say fuck it, and go for that third glass. And then a fourth. And so on. Control never worked for me, so I just had to give it up all together.
I’m a true blue addict, I guess. At least opiates were never my thing and I left OKC before I got too coked out.
Social media is not an entirely harmless addiction either, though it may seem that way. There are plenty of articles written on the topic so I don’t care to elaborate any further beyond sharing this excerpt from my last IG post:
“…It takes a lot of energy for me to function on a very basic level some days. (I’ve been crushing it the last few months!) It requires mindfulness, consistency and ever expanding self-awareness. Social media disrupts all of that and puts me in a dangerous place, as I have been prone -like every person in the Goddang First World- to bouts of depression and anxiety. Not anywhere near an episode but staying off here’s been key in my healing from a lot of crud. So anyway, rant over, I guess. This has been a fun experiment! XO-Cans”
I will end this by saying I am so grateful that I caught myself, and that I didn’t corrupt my blog by sharing it. Not that sharing personal work on social media is corrupt in itself. But for me I risk losing authenticity and writing for the wrong reasons in that environment. I don’t want to lose my voice and creativity again.
This blog must be kept pure. If I start writing for “likes” and instant gratification, it’s over. Yes, I still care about quality and will edit obsessively on some pieces, but the intention of everything I write on here is simply to get it out, to do what nourishes my soul, whether it’s worth anything in someone else’s eyes or not.
The drive from Green River to Escalante-Grand Staircase alone made my decision to pass on Moab worth it. Wide towering buttes revealed themselves from behind flattened clouds of fog as I wound my way through the changing landscape. Through broken slabs of earth jutting up from the ground, to fall forests of bare birch and pine, I drove.
And I snacked. Beef jerky and trail mix, two things I could happily eat everyday until I die aside from the inevitable constipation it would likely bring me. (And has brought me.)
At one point I pulled over at a foggy vista in the mountains and squatted to pee right there on the side of the road in front of God and everyone, not even bothering to hide behind anything. I hadn’t actually seen any other vehicles for an hour or more, so I guess I was really only in front of God and some indifferent wildlife. I really enjoy pissing outside for some reason. I find it exhilarating somehow even when there’s no voyeurism involved, and honestly there never really is. I usually find a tree or a dumpster to get behind.
I’m not sure why it matters that anyone knows these details, but perhaps it will help you better understand the protagonist of this story. She’s an animal.
The closer I got to Escalante, the more I said things like, “Holy shit,” and, “Oh my god!” I drove along a sliver of paved earth called Hell’s Backbone, dropping off on both sides and opening to wide canyon bluffs bottomed with weathered junipers and scrubs on a narrow, uneven spread of subdued desert grasses. To the west, lumps of Navajo sandstone and stubby buttes in shades of coral, white and rust were parted by a stream that you couldn’t quite see but knew existed because of the autumnal cottonwoods auspiciously growing golden alongside it. I could see into the western canyon for miles and before I knew it I was winding my way down into it.
I pulled off at the Lower Calf Creek “recreation area.” There was a hike to a waterfall which sounded enticing and places to camp, but for a price. $5 for day use, $15 for camping. There were also lots of cars in the trailhead parking lot. It was a beautiful parking lot. I mean, just breathtaking down there in that marvelous canyon with all the “autumnal cottonwoods growing golden” along the crick. I considered it. I could pay $15 and do a quick six-mile jaunt to a waterfall and come back to camp at one of those nice spots with all the lovely fall trees and potential traffic.
Despite my sarcasm it really wasn’t that bad and I really did consider it. But something told me I could find better, so I left.
Five miles later, I decided to go back to the recreation area. It was nearing 4:00 and I just needed to do a fucking hike already. That’s what I came out there to do after all, and I had been in a car all day eating my weight in G.O.R.P.
I pulled up, got out of my car, paced up the lot once and back down. I decided to leave again and for good this time.
Soon after, I made a curious left turn onto a narrow dirt road where I discovered dispersed campsites galore, free, with ridiculous views. Am I even alive? I asked myself. As stupid and romantic as it sounds I felt destined to be there because why else would it be so perfect? Listen, you can be destined for something without it necessarily meaning anything. So, there. It was meant to be.
After settling in I grabbed my day pack and wandered up the gravel road for a pre-sunset walk (Finally.) and was immediately pulled in by deep gratitude. Gratitude for my full-functioning, strong legs, tireless little feet and the boots protecting them, and my eyeballs of course, all for allowing me to interact with and take in the vast desert before me, and then for all my other senses as well because what is life without sensation? Then, there was even more gratitude- gratitude for my gratitude. Because it takes daily practice, and damn if it doesn’t make for a rich life when you are able to acknowledge the abundance all around you.
After whispering my many thanks to the Universe, I came to an unmarked trail off the side of the road where I hiked a ways into a dried up creek bed of fine sand, woven with mounds of slickrock and sage. I found a place to sit down to take some deep breaths before heading back for dinner, a little meditation, if you will. It was the first time I’d been completely still and totally in my body for days.
I’d received a text from a friend earlier that day asking how I was doing. When I told her I was in Utah therefore doing great, and confirmed that yes, I was there by myself she, like everyone else, was impressed. “Oh, wow, alone? Good for you! What an inspiration.” I used to get off on that. Okay, I still totally get off on it. Look at me. I’m a rugged, adventurous, kind of sexy, kind of smelly, bold, independent, self-sufficient, self-confident, mostly fearless, sometimes hairy, go-getter. A spritely young woman with primal tendencies and a deep appreciation of the wild. Even though I’m a tiny, weasley girl, I travel alone and sleep in my car and sometimes even outside. I rarely panic and I piss where I please! Could I be any cooler? No. Do you wish you could be me? Probably. (This is a bunch of half-truth, exaggerated bullshit. I’m soft. I get scared sometimes. I’m kind of weird. And I mostly only pee where peeing is allowed.)
Aside from all that ego masturbation, I do take genuine pleasure in doing things alone, especially anything outdoors. Great, uninterrupted thinking takes place or vanishes all together and I am able to pay more attention. But this time was different and my ego trip was lost to a peculiar thread of loneliness. (Come to think of it, isn’t that what it’s all about, chipping away at the pesky ego?) I didn’t feel threatened by it though. I didn’t take it personally or feel pathetic over its presence, which was a huge victory given that just four months prior I had what can only be described as an enormous drunken tantrum over how unlovable I believed myself to be at the time. Instead I was curious. This isn’t to say I wasn’t bothered by it. I found myself wishing for company on this trip and that surprised me. It didn’t align with what I previously believed about myself- all that stuff about being independent and self-sufficient, not needing anyone. While I didn’t perceive the loneliness as a threat, per say, I did find it to be a nuisance. I wanted it to go away but that’s not how things work so I “leaned into it” and asked it some questions. Questions like, why now?
I realized that I’d always dealt with loneliness to some degree since early childhood (I’m not special. Childhood’s hard on nearly everyone.) but I had a ten year respite thanks to my vices. Someone asked me recently if I drank more when I felt lonely. Generally speaking I drank enough that I never had to feel lonely, not for long anyway. Never had to sit with it the way I had more recently. Even when I stopped drinking I still had social media to turn to and did so often without an ounce of awareness of what it really was about. (I deactivated my last social media account three months before.) For nearly ten years I’d simply been unaware and anesthetized to it, but it was there all along, waiting to be addressed.
So, there I was in the Utah desert addressing my loneliness at the mouth of a deepening canyon, sitting cross-legged on creamy colored sandstone surrounded by a loose mosaic of petrified wood shards before taking my first and few meditative breaths.
I think it was my third deep inhalation that I burst into snorting laughter and gasping sobs, an unanticipated onslaught of emotion. I’ve never been so blindsided. Moments before I was in a pensive sort of state, neither high nor low. Now I was joyfully losing my shit in the middle of who even knows where.
In a near instant I received a massive load of clarity. My loneliness was a farce. I was far from alone. I have never been alone. I wouldn’t have made it this far, relatively sane and sober, if that were the case. I have family back home, a budding community in Santa Fe, and close friends in Colorado and all over who really love me, support me and want to see me succeed and be well. I am insanely rich in love and in that brief attempt at meditation I swear to God I felt it all at once, radiating inwardly, outwardly, endlessly. I practically fell over. And ironically I was thankful no one was there to witness my unhinged exhibition. I couldn’t stop cry-laughing because there I was in one of the most mystifying places on this wondrous planet, just trying to make contact with God and nature or whatever, making some major event of it -I don’t even know- and all I could think about anymore was how much I appreciate my day-to-day life and the people in it.
I am struggling to come up with an eloquent way to break all of this down but it just wasn’t like that. It wasn’t without grace, but it was a haphazard sort of intoxicated grace. I couldn’t catch my breath. Why was it so funny? It may have been one of the best moments of my life now that I think about it. (I have many of those. I can’t help it.)
I got up, returning to lucidity. I wiped my snotty nose on my arm and stumbled down the wash and out back to camp and heated up a can of vegetarian chili while the sun had its last hour before trading places with the moon.
The next morning the tea I drank tasted faintly of chili as I did not properly clean my pot the night before. I wrote in my journal on the low cliff’s edge, wrapped in a blanket, sipping my bean flavored yerba mate while the sun yawned and stretched it’s arms up over the horizon, warming the morning. Its stimulating rays urged me up from my perch and onward to the next phase of my journey- a long hike, possibly an overnight.
I didn’t really know where I was in relation to where I’d come from. I didn’t care. I liked it.
I headed to town, to the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center. I needed water, a national park sticker for my car and suggestions for hikes. I filled my water bottle and dromedary bag outside. I got my sticker. But I didn’t get the trail suggestions I’d hoped for.
The BLM employees, two oddly identical robust women with sparsely silver streaked mousy hair and khaki uniforms, were matter of fact and a touch ominous in their tones when they informed me that they couldn’t recommend hikes for reasons of liability since the majority of the trails were unmarked. (“If you don’t know what you’re doing and die or something we’d be held responsible, so it’s hike at your own risk.”) They stressed the importance of knowing how to read a topo map and use a compass out there. I never even know what road I’m on half the time.
The idea of unmarked backcountry trails aroused me to no end. That was exactly what I wanted, especially after my stint in Moab where all I could think about was dead-legging selfie-taking strangers over the edge of cliffs for making a spectacle of the natural world. But the BLM twins did spook me a bit. (I guess I should learn to use a topographic map and a compass.) I knew their warnings were over the top, but I understood. They were doing their jobs and for all they knew I could have been some inexperienced twit who “ain’t never been took nowhere,” who just happens to dress like they’ve been outside before. I certainly wasn’t like the hopeless people I’d seen on trails in the past wearing baggy gym shorts and slip on sneakers with nothing on them but a single crinkly bottle of Nestle water I could drink in a single gulp. But honestly, I got it.
I actually pride myself in having a healthy fear of being in the wild on my own. Healthy because while I like to push myself beyond my level of comfort, I also know that having spent most of my life in the Great Plains I am relatively inexperienced compared to those who grew up in these regions, and that the desert or any wilderness area is no joke, especially here given that I was completely unfamiliar with the area. I just had to accept that I wouldn’t be pushing myself today. This was the compromise for being able to explore beyond more developed places like Moab and Zion National Park with their practically paved trails, vistas at every turn and hoards of tourists stopping dead in front of you to take photos of every goddamned chipmunk along the way. (I do think it’s important for people to get out and see these places, but I just wish there was another way, one that didn’t impede mine.)
My previous loneliness transformed that morning into a simple desire for someone who knew more than me, with experience and expertise to share. I shrugged it off, holding onto eventually.
I did a very 2018 thing and downloaded a map on my phone of a hike to a lesser known slot canyon. I have an inexplicable affinity for those tight, undulatory spaces. They are, if you ask me, the sexiest geologic wonders of the Southwest with their narrow yet curvaceous walls seamlessly carved out by water, spooky silence and soft sandy bottoms. The one I found, which shall remain unnamed, was pristine as any I’d ever been in and gave my trip a sense of satisfying closure.
I headed home the next morning, sooner than I liked given that I’d just arrived, but the drive back was ten hours and I had to get back to work. Such is the nature of no plans.
A couple days after returning to Santa Fe a friend asked if I was interested in backpacking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim with a group of five the following week.
I fell out of love with Moab almost instantly when I arrived last Monday. To the extent that I wondered what there was to love in the first place.
Leaving the house that morning felt almost rote, like an insect in migration. I checked in with myself once on the highway, scanning for any strong emotions of which there were oddly very few. This peaked my curiosity, so I asked myself what my intentions were for the trip, what I expected to get out of it.
I didn’t know.
I kept checking in with myself like that along the way between listening to a letdown of a playlist that never quite pulled me from my ambiguous mood and an episode of Waking Up With Sam Harris, pausing occasionally to take in the changing scenery and to swap out pieces of gum. I had purchased three different flavored packs, watermelon, traditional bubble and mint, about an hour into my drive to prevent me from eating an entire two pound bag of trail mix or gnawing my fingers to hell. Was I anxious or something?
A friend reminded me the night before that I was in Utah around this time last year, right before making the hasty move to Santa Fe. It was a classic “little did she know” moment in which little did I know my life was about to basically be gutted. I didn’t know when I was in Moab last year that I would return to Oklahoma the following week to put in my notice at work and leave. I certainly knew something was churning on that trip, but I chalked it up to having been on the road for almost two weeks.
I didn’t plan for this get-away to coincide with my last, but it had me wondering if there was something more to the timing of it all. Was it something to pay attention to?
I’ve always believed myself to be a great finder of magic. It’s not that difficult, actually. Anyone can do it if they want to. You look for signs, draw connections, find meaning. And meaning is magic. It’s intuition. It’s God, the Universe, Spirit, you, me, Something. You don’t even have to believe in Something to do it, but you might after awhile. It’s how you paint your story. If I felt like it, I could stop paying attention, i.e. finding magic, and let my life become dull, or I could pay attention to the wrong things and succumb to life’s difficulties. Looking back, I suppose I have done both periodically. Sometimes bitterness overtakes a person, some unresolved, often entirely unknown issue from the past blisters up and it can deplete you. But by the grace of Something- no, because of the grace of Something I’ve never strayed too far from my meaning-making, magic-finding ways.
Anyway, no. Fall is just a lovely time of year to visit Utah. I had to leave it at that. It was as if I was trying too hard to find some significance in the time correlation, and that’s why I had to buy three packs of gum to sooth myself. Maybe not every trip is supposed to be some big soul-shifting journey. I let it go.
Moab was busy and the weather was shit.
What was my draw to this place? Where was the mystique I waxed on about before? This place was crawling with tourist types and all terrain vehicles.
As I approached I was reminded of the first first time I’d been to Moab which I’d more or less forgotten about. It didn’t count in my mind because we were only passing through for the night. This was a month or two before ol’ emotionally unavailable Mitch and I had our weekend trip there together, years ago. He invited me to join him and some friends to go to a show in Salt Lake City. We stayed at the Lazy Lizard Hostel, sharing a top bunk in a room with a man who’d clearly been living there for awhile. Sprawled out on a twin sized bed in the dark, surrounded by empty cans and cellophane wrappers, watching an old television with the volume on low, he barely acknowledged us aside from a few grunts. And Mitch barely acknowledged me aside from only the most necessary communication, making everyone uncomfortable for the entire trip. And the sweet girl who was with us got so blasted she began only speaking French, not even her native language, and spent the rest of the night vomiting in dark parking lot corners while we all took turns holding her hair and consoling her. It was a great time. Memorable.
Anyway, I remember driving into Moab that first first time, being in awe of the natural scenery but confused by the array of unsightly corrugated steel buildings painted in a simple pallet of whites, grays and mostly primary colors and all the junk piles. I always find it irksome the way we humans will put up structures without any aesthetic considerations, especially in a place so beautiful. I guess I’m just a little pretentious.
Once all the way into town where my cell signal improved, I checked my email at a red light out of habit, not really expecting anything. My very first Santa Fe connection finally replied to an email I’d sent him two months ago in which I apologized for how I ended things, very gracelessly without a whole lot of integrity. It was another one of those “Does this mean anything?” moments, as it was about a year ago that we’d made contact and traveled together through Utah, including my first backpacking trip right outside of Moab, followed by some crowded exploration of Arches.
Santa Fe was the first stop on my road-trip last year exploring the Southwest. Jay was the first person I met. I found him through a website for hosting travelers.
It poured rain the last stretch of my drive from Oklahoma to Santa Fe and I had just finished my second 20 ounce energy drink upon arrival, so I was beyond amped and also lucky I didn’t have a stroke or a seizure. (I had to. I stayed out late the night before doing unspeakable things and was running on very few hours of sleep.) I thought his adobe looked kind of dumpy from the outside, and I might have been more nervous going there alone, except he was hosting two other people, a nice married couple from Wisconsin or somewhere where wholesome people are from.
I called when I pulled up to make sure I was at the right place and he instructed me to let myself in through the gate which was secured with a large dog collar. As I crossed the threshold into the small, dark yard, I heard slow syrupy psych rock playing from inside and was immediately comforted knowing this guy was probably going to be super “cool” and know all the “cool” people and show me a really “cool” Santa Fe experience. Through the warm light inside he appeared, Jay, a few inches taller than me, ratty ginger hair knotted messily on top of his head, a dingy white t-shirt with Dr. Seuss fish all over, tight, faded black jeans, stick-n-poke tattoos on his arms, Chaco sandals on his feet and a bottle of cider in hand. He was sort of schlubby but in a very hip way. Seriously, he was cool, which was of utmost importance to me back then, and I knew I was in a good place.
I slept with him that night. I don’t waste time. I felt iffy about it in the morning because for one I had been pretty tanked and was coming down from the previous night of “casual” cocaine use, and two, even though I joked for weeks about all the “D” I planned on “slaying” from state to state, that wasn’t really what this solo excursion was about. It was supposed to be more of an “Eat, Pray, Love” thing. But like I said, he was cool, active, liked outdoorsy things and the arts, did yoga sometimes, drank and smoked cigarettes (edgy), and he was a physicist with a Ph.D. (My low self-esteemed ass secretly couldn’t get over the fact that a guy with a Ph.D. would ever be into me.)
He happened to be going on a canyoneering trip in Zion National Park around the same time I would be in Zion, so we discussed the possibility of camping together. I wasn’t trying to fall in love with anyone or let my solo adventure be hijacked by some dude, but it just made sense. So we did. You know- signs, magic, all that shit I was going on about before. The biggest indicator of all that we were destined to join forces was that we consumed the same things for breakfast everyday: yogurt and berries with granola and copious amounts of yerba mate.
I don’t regret it at all. We had a blast together, and I could write an anthology of stories based on those adventures alone. Okay, it’d be more like an anthology of inside jokes. (See: Baby’s First Backpacking Trip featuring Candra “Lady of the Canyon” Lowery) But things definitely took a turn for the weird towards the end.
I did not move to Santa Fe for Jay. I still stand by that. I’m too smart to move across states for a man I just met. But I’ll definitely stay at his house, in his bed and act like his girlfriend for awhile if it means I get to make an adventurous, unplanned move to a new town. Or back then I would have. When I’ve mentioned to friends I felt some guilt for basically taking advantage of him, his house, his connections, his big sweet dog, some have been quick to suggest that perhaps his intentions with me weren’t so great either. I used to latch onto that idea, shucking all personal responsibility for anything bad that ever happened between us, but in hindsight I know there was something, not love by any stretch, but something. And I’d rather not discard the memories we made together or forget everything he did for me, which was a lot more looking back than I realized then.
His reply to my email was short, telling me not to worry or apologize, that things did get weird, that he’d been meaning to reply but he’d been busy moving to the Pacific Northwest.
I looked for a hike to do before looking for a place to camp but every trail-head I pulled up to was packed, so I settled for a short hike in Canyonlands where I fantasized about tripping the French family dawdling in front of me as I pushed my way ahead of them. (I don’t enjoy having thoughts like that about fellow humans, but sometimes I forget strangers are more than just environmental props.) At the end of the trail we, the tourists and I, were met with an arch overlooking layers of canyons, layers of the earth’s dermis. I had my moment, taking it all in, breathing deeply while chattering people in floppy safari hats secured to their heads with drawstrings took turns posing for photos all around me. I reminded myself that nature is for everyone- not just for me. Let these people have their experience, too. But I had to get out of there.
Behind us dense, foreboding clouds rolled in and settled for awhile over the area I’d planned to backpack the next day. By that point though, I wondered if it would even be worth it to stay in Moab. Could I possibly have the type of experience I was looking for in a place so infested with humans?
I had purchased two bundles of cedar that day, so my top priority for the night was finding a place to camp where I could have a fire. I didn’t even care if it rained, as long as I could have my fire before it arrived. I easily found a spot on BLM land with an array of views, blue-green and black banded slopes of silty rock, towering red sandstone fins and miles-away mountains shrouded in rain clouds occasionally sparked with lightning like steel striking flint. And no fire restrictions. Perfect.
It was too damned windy for a fire. It was too damned windy to even eat my tuna and avocado anywhere but inside my car, so there I sat with my headlamp on eating canned tuna and avocado on stale rice cakes in the dark, laughing at my Moab experience thus far. I even choked a bit.
I considered how seemingly quiet my night would have appeared to an observer while I sorted my gear and posted up. I wrestled the curtains I’d cut from thrifted fabric, using binder clips to attach them to a long line of parachute cord suspended above the car windows. I had one of the rear seats folded down, topped with a thick foam mattress pad and my zero degree sleeping bag. It was cozy if not cramped between the bins, firewood bundles, backpacks, boots and bags of snacks.
I didn’t experience the night as a quiet one with all the thoughts proliferating inside my head, the endless narrative. I worried for a minute that maybe I only really enjoyed this sort of thing when I was drinking. I don’t often think about drinking anymore, but that night I thought man, this wouldn’t be so bad if I had a box of wine to nurse. It wasn’t that I sat there obsessing over the alcohol or even that the night was so bad. But wine was always such a great comfort to me and I wasn’t exactly comfortable in that moment. I also thought this wouldn’t be so bad if I had someone else here to share this so far amusing experience with. For a long time the company of drink and the company of another person were interchangeable and almost equally satiating.
I was writing in my notebook about all this when in my headlamp-lit peripheral I saw a spider scurry across my pad. Holy shit. I hate killing anything but mosquitoes, but I had to kill this spider before it killed me. It was a black widow. Undeniably. I became an expert on identifying them a few weeks before when I found three in my kitchen one evening. I felt more threatened this time, alone and far from home, confined to my car in the middle of a windy rainstorm. I stayed calm. I tried smashing her with a Sriracha bottle (goes great on rice cakes topped with tuna and avocado) but she was on my wadded up coat on top of other wadded up things. I could no longer see her. Shit. She was somewhere inside the folds. The last thing I wanted to do was disturb the pile too much for fear she might end up on me in the process of searching so I made a truce with her. I’m not kidding. I placed more wadded up things on top of the coat, gently, putting more layers and distance between us and I said these words or something like them, “Listen, I have a feeling you just want to be left alone, and so do I. You just stay over there and I’ll stay over here, and we can sort this out in the morning.” And we did. That morning, both still alive, I shook her out of my coat onto the rust colored ground outside. I could be making this up but I think she was genuinely grateful that I spared her.
I somehow slept 12 hours that night and I was ready to get a move on.
The weather didn’t look like it was letting up any time soon, so I determined a new plan was in order. I went to a coffee shop in Green River, Utah. It was appropriately eclectic in its decor with gold framed Van Gogh replicas screwed into the ceiling lined with pillowy hung coffee bean sacks. The gal working claimed to be the “biggest nerd” in the area and didn’t do outdoors so she couldn’t make any recommendations to me as far as hikes were concerned. An old nay-sayer, I believe perhaps the owner of the shop, overheard us then proceeded to waste about fifteen minutes of my time discouraging me from doing anything at all until tomorrow.
I sat for a bit sipping my coffee, thinking things over. (I would like to mention I had already consumed 16 ounces of yerba mate and a shot of espresso.) I guess I decided I would drive to Escalante. I say I guess, because I don’t really remember how I decided that was the new plan. It just was. I thanked the nay-sayer for his “help” and then God for the rain, the perfect excuse to back out of backpacking alone, something I was reluctant to admit I felt ill prepared for, and the perfect reason to go somewhere else besides Moab.
Blogs these days are too topical, often monetized and lacking in authenticity. (Let me tell you how grossed out, heartbroken, confused, frustrated, etc. I am by the lack of authenticity in the world these days. God forbid I ever fall into that racket.) But I desperately needed somewhere to exercise my tiny writing muscle and a small audience to share with, and I wasn’t sure where else to turn.
As with many modes of writing there’s a kind of formula or expectation with a blog, such as length of posts, a theme or a topic, including photos in posts and updating regularly, at least if you want it to be a good blog. I worried a blog would make me feel too constricted in my writing, interfering with my flow. And it did for a minute. But I am not here to become a famous internet blogger. Fuck that. I just want to write and keep it authentic, so I will. My posts may be long, short, sporadic, whatever, I don’t care, doesn’t matter as long as I’m enjoying myself and my needs are being met.
This for me is more of a baby portfolio than a blog.
I haven’t posted anything in awhile because I started to write about my trip to Utah and it’s turning into this very long, convoluted something or other about the last year with lots of time-hopping. I have no idea what it’s going to turn into, when it will be complete, if I’ll ever share it here or what. But I am enjoying the hell out of writing it. For the first time for as long as I can remember, I’m in a flow state with my writing. It just feels really good, like Ah, yes, memories, details, all coming together, yum. I don’t care about an outcome. I’m just doing it.
So, that’s what I’ve been up to.
And I can stop feeling embarrassed now about having this damn thing. “Oh, Candra, you have a blog?” Ugh. Stop. Yes, it’s true. I have a blog, but I don’t wish to be part of that world or to participate in the internet all too much. (Social media traumatized me.) Maybe that sounds stubbornly immature and stuck-up. Or maybe in true hypocrite fashion I’ll sell out before you know it. As soon as I finish writing my NYT’s best-selling memoir ripping off both “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Wild.”
A year and five days ago I hiked the Chesler Loop in Canyonlands National Park after finding out my grandpa had passed away. I had terminated our relationship long before, so I wasn’t particularly grieved. I recall my day being soured by his departure only because I couldn’t decide whether or not to cut my trip short for his funeral. My only reason for going would have been to support my mom, so I called my therapist. I felt like he died right when I got to Moab on purpose. (Sidenote: I’ve forgiven him now for all of his hurtful, harmful behaviors. No one comes into this world an asshole.)
Next week I’m going back to Moab for no real reason other than I just want to. When I say Moab I’m really referring to the surrounding areas: Canyonlands, Arches National Park, Monument Valley. It’s ungodly beautiful out there and I want to sleep and freeze to death under the stars next to the Colorado River, surrounded by deep red canyon walls.
Moab. It’s aplacefor me. Do you know what I mean? It’s more than canyons inside of canyons inside of canyons and carefully balanced rocks on top of hoodoos, more than sandstone fins and arches carved out by time.
What I recall most about my first trip to Moab: It was a respite from my life dropping out from under me.
I had just learned that my mother’s lung cancer, which she’d just completed treatment for six months prior, had metastasized to her brain while I was wrapping up my first full semester at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Looking back I still don’t know how I did it.
A guy I had been seeing wanted to get me out there before I left town. He was a strange mutt, very handsome, rugged and masculine yet quiet and a bit awkward with stooped posture. He was a kind but moody wild-land firefighter from the Midwest who secretly liked musicals. He sometimes spoke in 50’s vernacular, but overall he didn’t speak much. Mitch. I was in love with him for some reason. We would play Ty Segal and T.Rex on the jukebox and dance our asses off, just the two of us, at the Roadhouse in Durango, the only smoking bar in town. We were usually pretty toasted in those moments, but it was fun. He was also completely emotionally unavailable, so naturally I loved him even more.
I think I really fell in love with him when I found out my mom might be dead in a year.
Emotionally unavailable men can actually be okay in those situations. I guess. I haven’t really thought about it until just now. He would tell me things like, “Candra, you’re a real swell gal and you’re brave.” It was nothing, but it was something, you know?
So, to Moab we went in his snug single-cab Toyota pick-up. It was a truck made for circus clowns. My knees nearly hit the dash and I’m 5’3″. He looked comical folded up behind the wheel. Old mannish. We listened to a Marty Robbins c.d. on the way.
We arrived in the afternoon and hiked to the iconic Delicate Arch, “the one that’s on Utah license plates.” What do I remember? Dragging my jaw through the sand, Mitch reminding me to drink extra water, lots of people, and the near impossibility of getting a photo of the arch without people in it.
It never occurred to me until that trip with Mitch that I should be in any of my photos. I just never thought about it, and I rarely liked how I looked in photos that I didn’t take myself. But he said, “Your mom doesn’t care what you look like, and it’s about what you’re doing anyway. She will like it.”
The sun was making a quick decent by time we got back into town to buy groceries for our campfire dinner. We decided on steak and macaroni-n-cheese, then proceeded to find a campsite in the dark.
We made our fire under the Milky Way, bright and crisp against the colorless sky. Where else would we have made the fire though? Mitch did the cooking thing while I chatted away excitedly about who even knows, when a light on the Eastern horizon caught my eye. “What is that?” I thought maybe it was the glow of a distant city. Mitch wasn’t sure. We looked on and soon realized it was an enormously round dandelion moon rising up at an observable pace into the night sky! Okay, maybe it was a harvest moon, I don’t know, but it looked like a dandelion to me. Its golden light washed away any trace of the Milky Way. I was okay with it though. I believe I even hooted and hollered, true to my Texas roots. I had never seen such a sight in all my life. That moon alone made the whole trip worth it, and I think I said it about ten more times between then and the moment we got back to Durango and at least a hundred times since then.
We slept that night in the bed of Mitch’s truck, sandwiched between overlapping camping pads and a few sleeping bags layered with wool blankets.
The next morning we woke with our coverings covered in frost. It was fucking cold. I sat up, looking around at what I couldn’t see the night before. Unfortunately I can’t remember exactly what color the sky was. Probably a few colors, naturally, peach, pale blue, lavender. Seems about right. All I remember for sure is that there was a warm hue to the light. To the northwest I could see pale purple snow-capped mountains far in the distance. Nearer to me I could see rust colored outcroppings and hoodoos. And then! There was that damn hot air balloon suspended between those damn far away mountains and those damn otherworldly outcrops. I thought I had to be dreaming. What’s the difference anyhow?
We had coffee. We had oatmeal. We packed and headed for the next trail. We had more coffee. We hiked all day long, this time in Canyonlands which for whatever reason I liked far better than Arches. (Fewer people?) We posed for pictures to share with our families and we wore ourselves properly out before heading back into town for burgers and milkshakes.
That whole weekend I didn’t think once about cancerous tumors, my mom’s mortality, powering through the end of the semester, or leaving all my friends and my life in Durango. I only thought about that event of a massive moon, ancient seabeds and the way Mitch always smelled like a bizarre combination of exhaust fumes and fresh air with a sometimes hint of something maple.
On the way back to Durango I slept, crammed somehow comfortably in the cab of Mitch’s tiny truck, my boots off, knees folded to my chest and head resting against my purple Carhartt jacket wadded up as a pillow against the door. I later found that I had smashed a forgotten banana in one of the pockets. It was okay though. I had been to Moab. I experienced the Utah desert and I have photographic evidence.
A month and a half later I was living back in OKC and mom had already began radiation.