Tuesday, December 3, 2013

it's not an adventure until something goes wrong.

I sat on the cliff and watched the fog roll in towards me. You weren't even able to see the horizon line, the mist was so thick. It was turning pink and purple with sunrise and for a moment, I imagined that the sea ended right there--a perfect crease; a folded corner in a paper earth.

Veda stretched out her legs and pressed closer into my side. I thought she was dying the other day and the world became a lot scarier and darker. I had held her in my arms, buried my face into her chest and sobbed as we sank deeper into the back of my car, parked somewhere in a neighborhood I didn't recognize. She's my partner, my sidekick, and more than I could ever explain to you, she is what I love most in the world. It was the loneliest night I've ever had.

The fun of traveling, at that point, had ended. I had left Southern California to escape to the wilderness of Big Sur when Veda got incredibly sick. And after a hellish couple days of vets and plans of emergency surgery and medication, everything became balanced and we made our way to collapse on the coastline.

My hair started to turn to wispy, sea-air infused curls when I was sitting in the grass and drinking the last grittiness of my black coffee. I picked out the things I loved most about being on my own and about being on the road. I love the sound of the camp stove flame roaring, screaming my favorite songs at the top of my lungs with my arm out the window, how my cold hands fumble in the morning through the moves of getting the coffee started. Right at that moment,  I loved how scared I was of the sea beneath me, looking black and swallowing the rocks I had sat on the afternoon prior. But as much as I loved those things, nothing seemed to compare to the idea of home in those moments. I missed the creaking of the floorboards and the woodstove in the living room. I wanted to see the sun creep it's orange rays through the window in the morning and throw my fly line into the Yellowstone River. As most people know, I love the road. I find answers there, and have, most of the time, felt the most like my own self while travelling. But my heartstings ached for home and the comfort of the familiar. I felt like I had been stripped of everything- down to my barest of bones this time around and I was ready to be back.

On that cliff, I made a list of things I wanted to do in the next year and a list of things I wanted to do in my lifetime. I made a list of things I wanted to get better at, and things I'd like to improve in myself. It's been awhile since I've re-assessed my goals and dreams, or at least written them down. Sadness has a way of wiping the slate clean, like starting over. I wrote "Day 1" on the top of the page of my notebook above the list.

Only days after I sat on the beach, my car died. It was a mountain burial, and she decided she was done when we were in the middle of the National Forest. For all the places for her to die, I'll take that place. For the most part, she was great. She had character right up until the end.

I'm sitting in Montana now, 29 days after I left to California. The feeling of restlessness that I've felt for the past 8 months has subsided into a dull whisper. I feel different now, and like I needed a trip like the one I just had to remind me that traveling isn't always the answer.

For now, building on what I have here is more important than seeing something new every day.

I've always been good at travelling and leaving, but on the top of my notebook list of things I'd like to improve in myself was this: to grow where I'm planted.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The anatomy of happiness

Golden light poured through my windshield. The frost covers the windows and turns the light into sparkling fractions, pressed up against the box of the car we were sleeping in.

I thought a lot about the anatomy of happiness in those moments of sleepy, drifting ideas you get when you are first waking up. I thought about falling asleep in my sleeping bag with the cold air surrounding me, and the quiet mornings of pink, burning skies. I thought about watching fires turn to embers and the warmth of whiskey felt in my face.

The mornings of coffee in the backcountry will, for me, be the best ones and I am coming to love the desperate situations that turn to the best stories later on. I love the tired muscles when I've walked for miles, and the alpine lakes that are so cold that they take away my breath when I'm brave enough to dive under. I love the turning of another day in a different place, makeshift dinners made in parking lots, and late night talks that turn into early morning conversations. 

The past month and a half, I've done almost nothing but travel wherever I choose. It's been a luxury and I'm so grateful, knowing that I have had both the time and the funds to do this- the rare occasion that both fall into place.

We went to the Salton Sea, Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon, Denver, Jackson, Bozeman, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone and then finished the grand road trip by shooting a wedding outside of the Tetons.

I think when I dissect the happiness into pieces, these moments are the ones that help me lift my head through the heaviness. When I think of what I'm thankful for in this life season, I think of the screaming laughter- tears pouring from the corners of my eyes driven from smiles. There's been a lot of those lately, and the freedom of the road brings out that happiness in me. It allows me to let go, to observe, to think a day at a time, to seize opportunity and chance and keep a cup of coffee as my only routine. It allows me space to create and think about the person I want to become.

Because how can you not fall in love with the world like this?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Home on the Road

I thought a lot about the word "home" as the Sierra's slid by out the window. The morning light was turning them pink and I saw a sleepy reflection of myself in the side view mirror, having woken up at 4:15 to get an early start driving.

I stumble into a really long answer when people ask me where I'm from because home has a different meaning to me. Do you mean where my storage unit currently is, or where I grew up, or where I've spent most of my adult life? Or do you mean where do I sleep? That last answer varies on the season, weekend and month.

I feel at home when there's a long stretch of highway in front of me, the sound of an oar digging into the water, the way the wind tangles my hair around my face and drinking a beer when I feel like I've earned it. Home is the stack of duffle bags I've been living out of, the bangles of plane tickets around their handles and opening my eyes to see the sky lit up with the milky way. It's the coffee mug I never wash, the conversations of desperate adventures told around a fire, and the beaming grin I always have when I reach the summit.

I guess home for me, in the broader sense, has never been a place. It's been found in souls that I've met and laughing until my stomach hurts. It's been found in kitchens, kindness of strangers, couches donated to my vagabonding and embracing hugs of old friends. I love having a place to base out of, but I've always loved the freedom and the inspiration I get from being on the move.

This past trip to Yosemite was one of the best trips I've had. I love the burning of my calves up the hillside, the scabs on my hands from climbing, the blood donated to the wall with the cause of reaching the top. I love watching the headlamps from the climbers on El Cap, laying in the meadow, eating pizza at the end of a long day spent running around. I love the sound of cams hula-hooped on a harness and the dinners made in the dark.

Those things are the things my heart returns to and my soul aches to be a part of again and again.

I'll keep traveling  for another bit of time, bringing this season to a close. It's been a season for the books, and I can tell you that I've never been happier than I am these days. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

What floating has taught me about pausing.

I couldn't catch my breath.

I rolled onto my back in the lake and felt the line of water along my sides, my clothes feeling like tissue paper jellyfish around me and little gasps of air escaping my lungs.  I voluntarily jumped in here but I couldn't calm myself down enough to float; I can't seem to remember how to relax enough to forget the idea of sinking.

The fog was starting to set in on top of the water, and patterned rings were drifting out from where I lay in the milky blue vastness. The setting sun was starting to cast everything a dull pink and I continued to try to remember how to sit still.

Isn't it funny how we are so used to rushing around and running through life and we forget how to pause? It was almost uncomfortable to take a moment, to float in the water and listen to the crickets and cicadas hum in the trees. I don't think I realized how caught up I was in the pace of which things were going until they slowed down.

I laid in the water, counting my deep inhales and thought back to when I first started travelling 8 weeks ago. I drove from Jackson to Denver to Taos to Lander to Salt Lake City to Yosemite to San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Ventura, Los Angeles, took a plane to Washington D.C., to Charleston to Chapel Hill to take a plane all the way back to the opposite side of the country again and start a full work week.

And as I lay, I thought the culmination of those places and memories of babies being born and graduates, dusty bars of people with hands that have seen long days and hard work, steep granite walls, sagebrush plains, and barefoot bluegrass bands. I've had some of the most cinematic moments of golden light while paddling over waves, birds flying in their V's overhead, and heat rising off of long stretches of highways in the Southwest. I thought about happiness and loss and fear; the sum of experiences that make up a person and all of the moments over the course of a lifetime that shape a soul. It's incredible how much life can change you in a matter of months. The time flew by.

My rushing is a different kind of rushing than most people's. I jump from city to countryside, all beautiful places, but it's still rushing. Being a freelance artist, it's a constant fight to make sure I have an upcoming job or project to work on. This line of work encourages you to live in the future, but no plans are ever set. Because of this, I forget to take moments to float and pause. I don't want to reach the end of my life always having been constantly living falling forward.

It's something to work on.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Necessity of Wild Places

I sat on a porch just outside Yosemite the other morning, hands curled around a cup of coffee and barefoot toes tapping to this song. The night prior, I had slept in a meadow, watching the Milky Way arch it's back across the sky and listened to the coyotes sing their song in such a loud and somber note, I thought I was dreaming it.

And yesterday night, I sat atop a ridge looking across the ocean, with a wind that blew a damp cold into my bones that only sea air knows how to do. I watched the ocean heave in swells and I thought a lot about the necessity of wildness.

"Just now I can hardly conceive of any bodily condition dependent on food and breath any more than the ground or sky." (John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra)

In between these places, I've been shuffled down overcrowded highways to cities and this culture shock has been hard on my system. And I've thought about this quote from Muir as I've looked around at those whose foreheads lean on their hands in traffic, and those who are constantly staring at their phones while walking, and those who have a general tiredness about them from the rushing and waiting. So many are suffering from nature deficit and don't even know. I wished for all of them that they could smell the coastal sage in the evenings and wrap their arms around a redwood, and listen to the Merced before they slept.

After 12,000 miles on the road at 8 weeks of travel, I can say that I've come to realize how much I need wildness in my life; to see the moon sit on the horizon and the stars grow brighter and to listen to how the wind in the pines sounds like the ocean. I'm so lucky that I get to experience this all the time and I've been able to carve a life for myself that allows me to be in those places so frequently. I feed off of it, and get so depleted from the city life.

And in the past day, when I've sat in the cab and stared out the window at the skyscraper scene that has replaced my mountain scene, I've thought that there is a wildness about the city that I don't completely understand. It works for some but oh, I miss the internal West.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

El Capitan and the Fear

This morning I woke up staring at thousands of feet of rock, towering above my head. Above me is the Salathe, a route that my Uncle had made the first free ascent on, almost exactly 25 years prior. I fell asleep underneath it last night, after a frustrating jug haul up the fixed lines, handing over my pride and halfway jugging in the dark due to my slowness, to reach the bottom of the Heart on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley.

I watched the sunrise turn the cliffs pink and the shadow of El Cap project onto the trees below, the big giant, waking up from sleep. The shadow worked clockwise as we stretched our tired muscles and I thought a lot about fear that has prevented me from being up on a wall sooner. In fact, I had dreams of falling for weeks before I got here.

Fear is a funny thing, and it can decide how you live your life. I feel like mine has been holding me tightly to it's hip and I've let it sit, thinking that there's nothing I could do about it.

Before we started hiking to the base, I was so full of nervous energy, I could have run for miles. And though that energy was mostly spent in my desperate attempt to get my rhythm set jugging, most of the fear had converted into amazement that I was actually on my way up, that the fear wasn't quite as paralyzing as I had thought.

And though it's no big stride, it's progress and it was a life changing experience for me.

The moon, in it's crescent, was light enough to see and it cast moon flares through my lens. I can't tell you how very, very alive I felt up there, looking down on the 200 ft trees, and drinking coffee high above the Valley floor. I can tell you that today I have lived life to the fullest and I'm not the same person I was yesterday.

I wish you could see the beauty that I've been witnessing and the exponential growth that I've felt. I try my best to capture it all, but there are certain things that shouldn't be bridled, just experienced. And the sum of all my experiences here, are that exactly. 

I hope I never stop feeling life so fully as I do right now and I'm incredibly grateful for the people I had with me on this step. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Life changing moments

I've had a lot of life changing moments.

Getting off of the plane for the first time on the other side of the world; stepping onto the naked, foreign tarmac, the humidity enveloping me.
The first return to Yosemite since the accident. Dogwoods had bloomed and I couldn't, for the life of me, be angry when I was standing in the meadows, gazing at the giant walls.
The first time I had a conversation in a language other than my own.
The uplifting feeling of my career just beginning.
My first solo road trip, 20,000 miles logged on the road with the freedom to go wherever I chose.

And then there was the birth of August.

There are no feelings to describe having been present when someone enters the world. There are no words I can write that could explain the first inhales of those little butterfly lungs. Or the first time Heidi held him. And every word I can think of sounds too harsh to tell you about the first time he laid on my chest, head tucked under my chin and the certainty of knowing I had never held something so delicate and fragile.

We come so innocently into the world. Born to parents and places and environments. We grow and learn and hope. And to see that all begin for someone will be something that I will remember for the rest of my life.

I can't wait to get to know August again and again. I can't wait for him to learn the sagebrush plains and what each peak is called and explore the world and learn his name. I hope he sees things with new eyes, and keeps his heart open and knows that he is so loved and cared for. I hope he never doubts that for a minute.

As I left town, I felt full to the brim with love. The blood orange sun pushed me down the highway and I thanked my lucky stars to feel so alive and happy.

I can't wait for what's to come.