Lessons from the Road

DSC_0228It’s been a year since our summer road trip. We’ve covered thousands of miles since then, punctuated by two frigid cross-country, storm-eluding, highway-closing for Wyoming wind, driving the snow-covered-dirt-road-detour for miles, turn-the-car-on-in-the-middle-of-the-night to warm our metal tent parked at countless rest areas, fast-red-road-country[1]  crisscrossing moves to the farm; all the while remembering, whom this land once nourished.

It’s almost as if it’s taken half the year to catch our breath! Soaking in our rural sanctuary for recovery; and perhaps, to also forget, for a short while, how long and large this beautiful country really is. But even with the hardships of the road, there has been a depth of value to traveling that has settled into our lives, a bit like muscle memory becoming stronger, turning micro trauma into awakened conviction.

We’re living in a socially constructed world of never-stopping and never-ending production. This supreme disconnection from our bodies is rooted in the belief that we are machines to be hammered by the ever-more-powerful extraction of our time, squeezing more-than-a- body-can-give into a predigested work week box. “I think; therefore I am, and I shall overcome this limitation of needs” becomes the mantra of the disposable; as if, Maslow’s wisdom can be erased; as if, even he didn’t go far enough when he appropriated much of his theory from First Peoples.[2] As if, in our pursuit of conquering nature, we have been turned against our own life needs, turned against the needs of all present and future life, ignoring in a great-profit-seeking-denial that we need to eat, sleep, love one another, and rest. And, we need to do all of this in a world overflowing with clean air, land, water and life.

Of course, that denial can easily be re-enacted on the road, like the time we drove from DSC_0014 Prescott, Arizona, to a campground on the coastal beach in one day to save money; the inhumane push through a 112 degree Mohave fraying my body and mind until right about the time we crossed the coastal range in the blackness of night with invisible ravines on her curvy roads. Thrown into an all-consuming panic, I forced Ron to slow to a snail’s pace. In my exhaustion, I could not keep from imagining falling into the abyss. Descartes might say he was right; my thoughts ruled over my imagination so powerfully that had I been the one driving they might have found us the next day at the bottom of a gorge but I would argue, of course, he was wrong.

He was dead wrong. The abyss was a metaphor for how wrong he has been for centuries, and how dangerously far we’ve fallen by following his lead. No one and no thought can control the sanctity of life, because contrary to the industrialized model, contrary to the miraculous advances in medical add-ons and interventions, contrary to the push to homogenize all-things-living into a one-size-fits-all-profit-seeking-DSC_0011commodity; life is not a machine. No matter how much we deny, no matter how many constructs we create; no matter how many wars are lost by someone, nor how many urban paradises spring up out of the desert, no matter how much cool technology Steve Jobs has created, nor how often bible pushers will tell us our bodies are evil; we are not machines.

[1] Fast Red Road is an amazing novel by indigenous writer Stephen Graham Jones. http://www.demontheory.net/

[2]  https://lincolnmichel.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/maslows-hierarchy-connected-to-blackfoot-beliefs/

Opinel French Folding Kitchen Knife

I ate breakfast this morning on my friend’s porch in Prescott AZ. A left over piece of steak with a small omelet, fresh brewed coffee and buttered sourdough toast as I sat in the sun stretching like a sleepy dog in the non-humid, mountain surrounded wonder of this high desert. Whippoorwills punctuated waves of cicada white-noise. Breeze puffs rustled the junipers. I cut my steak with an Opinel French folding knife. We bought it in Portland just before we left – I have not had one of these knives since I was twenty four.

Karen and I are going to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in November of this year. Thanks. Everyone tells us that it is an accomplishment. I picked her up in Pluckimen New Jersey hitch hiking to the Delaware Water Gap in July 1975. We were hitched permanently before three months passed. But after only four years, with a two year old and a host of financial stresses, we had a huge fight, complete with me throwing a pot of beans through a glass window, and decided to split up.

The reasonable way to go about it (and we were very reasonable in those days; our mantra from the beginning was, “If it doesn’t work out we can always get divorced.”) was to simply sell all our stuff and separate. Of course we didn’t think about what would happen to our child – we were only 23 and didn’t think too deeply about anything back then (although we thought we were on top of it, children, especially children with children seldom are <grin>). But after that fight, we were determined to make the changes. As said, we were efficient if nothing else.

We sold most of our stuff. We calmed down. The stress abated and the extra money eased the crunch. And we realized that we didn’t need to split up after all.

BIG LIFE LESSON: Too much stuff makes stress – when in doubt, dump it. Now days I call that the major reset, back then we felt we’d shed the world’s weight; all before we’d been together five years.

It pissed my dad off royally when we sold the 76 Honda Civic he’d bought us. (Come to think of it, we did that a few more times as well.) But we were debt free and unburdened. And so we decided to take a road trip. That has often been our default position. Lost a job? Take a road trip. Beginning a new chapter? Take a road trip. Overwhelmed with complexity? Take a road trip. And so on.

I think I may have mentioned in an earlier post that our big wedding present was a North Face mountain tent complete with a snow tunnel. I also got a pair of Pivetta Hiking boots. And though I’d always been a musical geek who’d rather sit around all night and play guitar, we considered ourselves very out-doorsy and athletic. Go figure. We rounded out our camping gear with some new back packs (including a Kelty frame to carry the boy) and outfitted ourselves for the a Big Adventure.

We collected wooden utensils and a couple of Opinel French folding kitchen knives, reduced our necessaries to fit into two backpacks, taught the boy to use a toilet and bought one way plane tickets to LA. Once there, we’d hitch up the coast and visit some friends in Santa Cruz. For several weeks before leaving we practiced taking cold showers with the hose outside in our bathing suits.

Fast forward to now.

The paraphernalia has morphed, but the concept is the same. We have made similar road trips repeatedly over the past forty years. This one, a journey of many purposes is also an echo of that first adventure. And the items we’ve chosen are as important as the unfolding route. We only had a trace of a plan to begin. But providence or spirit or the highway wind has nudged us to revisit most all of the places we had been. It is humbling and glorious.

On the way through New Jersey we paused to note how different the corner was where I met Karen. Almost nothing remains. Just up the road we glanced at the spot where we were married outside at a garden by the Bridgewater town hall. We met with friends and family all along the way. Last Saturday we camped at a site alongside the Rio Grande. The only spot available was the same shelter we’d been in with the kids on Karen’s pre-Goddard quest in 93. Down the road from The Pilar Yacht Club raft rental.

When we get back home we have a monstrous amount of work to do – so in many ways this reflective odyssey is like taking a deep sweet breath before beginning a marathon. Our muscles become toned, our skin tanned; our lungs expand to hold more of the precious air and the unclouded vistas dilate before us. I knew our hearts would expand. I anticipated the goodness of it. But this trip, with all the revisits and spiral loop backs, where we meet our younger selves at each turn, is having a temporal effect. I feel younger every day. I turned twenty the year I married Karen. I will turn sixty four days after our fortieth. But time runs backward now. Every day I recognize more wonder, my eyes open wider. This road trip has become a metaphor, but I guess they always do. We quest out into our world only to realize the map is our skin. And the lines that grow are the paths we take, have taken and will take again until sundown where we get to rest by the whispering river, the brush spotted hills sliding into shadow.





And then I cut myself washing the fucking knife.