For two minutes today, the weariness of our country’s chaos, settled deep in our bones, got a respite. The separateness which we create out of our fears was loosened just a bit. With our differences in place, millions of us together turned our gaze towards the meeting of sun and moon. A rare opportunity to observe celestial alignment.
For two minutes and beyond, millions of eyes focused on a covering and an unveiling. To ponder what totality really means. To perhaps wonder why we so seldom feast our eyes on the open sky – day or night – to see what it can teach us. Scientific explanations cannot obscure the mystery inherent to hearts and minds hungry for an expanded way of knowing ourselves and our world.
Even in the moment of total cover, the corona of the sun reminds us it is still there. Dancing shadows play through pinpoints of tree leaves, creating art upon cement where moments before, only ordinariness was present.
Wonder and awe ask us to set aside cynicism and despair to make room for something more powerful. To engage our imagination in a way that surfaces new solutions to the real troubles and injustice that we face.
We all have two minutes a day with which we can be intentional. Multiplied by millions, radical change is possible. Two minutes daily can open us up collectively to banish hate and embrace love and justice. It’s a rare earthly alignment. It is possible.
Most of Dad’s ashes from his death two years ago went into the pre-bought cemetery plot in the city. What I kept are being scattered this Father’s Day, as I travel along the Big Hole River Valley in Montana. His birthplace state; a place he loved for its Big Sky and open spaces. A place to roam freely.
All his life Dad was tightly contained by a prescriptive notion of right/wrong and fears of the unknown. That part of him would feel comfortably safe in the boundaries of an urn of ashes that was gently laid into a gravesite. Protected, safe, memorialized and waiting to be joined by the wife he loved.
Yet, also in Dad was a creative and spontaneous nature that was seldom let out to play. It surfaced in family poems, unique handmade Christmas ornaments, and woodworking. Often it was restricted by the guidance of too many “shoulds” and life was mostly serious. I imagine he yearned to live more in the freedom of the current moment rather than in regrets about the past or anxiety about the future. He knew something about the value of living in the “now” from his childhood.
Family friends had a hay ranch in the Big Hole River Valley in southwest Montana where Dad spent some summers in his youth. This is my first visit to the area. It’s beautiful. Even on a cloudy day, the mountains, valley and river call you into the now.
Somewhere in the valley I passed through today, hired ranch hands taught my Dad how to ride a horse, feed the calves, slop the pigs, and get the eggs. They also encouraged him to simply enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. He was free to roam.
Dad learned how to fish in the Big Hole River which captured his imagination and brought him peace. You could hear the gratefulness in his voice when he talked about those experiences. My sister, as an adult, also fished in the Big Hole River although the connection to my Dad’s experience was only made recently. Today we travel together through this valley remembering Dad.
Dad’s creative nature and his appreciation of Montana’s beauty impacted me and how I live my life. I’m also often too serious, but still drawn to risking a life that flows rather than staying within “safe” boundaries. So, it is fitting that today I celebrate the generosity of that gift as Dad’s ashes are set free in the flowing of a river that winds through the Big Sky country that he loved. That meanders and rushes, rises and falls, flows over rocks and becomes still. A flow that is joyous, adventuresome and alive.
We stopped at many places along the river until the right one beckoned us. I scattered the ashes in the river. “Here you go, Dad. Flow free.” An unexpected gust of wind came up at that moment and I extended my arms to the sky, joyously calling “Hey, Dad. Hey, Dad!” It was one of those mystical moments that are a gift.
I stand on the rock jetty with the mighty Columbia River on my left side and the Pacific Ocean on the right. This is where they meet. Where their separateness joins. The meeting of the waves is fierce as the surge of the river encounters the power of the ocean. There is a life metaphor here.
The river side seems calm compared to the ocean waves. Yet its power is there, submerged beneath the surface. A whale spouts. A fishing boat moves along. Seals pop up.
Underneath the surface, just before the river heads out to sea, are sand bars; sediment built up from the bottom. The bars are treacherous. Boats, incoming from the ocean, must navigate them in particular ways to stay safe. This area is known worldwide as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” Over 2000 large ships have sunk here since 1792. There are many secrets at the bottom of this river. Unfulfilled dreams.
Looking to the other side of the jetty, the ocean waves seem soothing. Moving to the rhythm of the moon, they swell, bathe the sand and return to their depths. I take comfort in the repetition; reassurance in a chaotic world.
But, when the waves encounter the jetty, they protest the barrier stopping their surge. Hitting hard against the rocks, their chaotic spray rises to splash over the rocks above.
At the end of the jetty, the ocean waves meet the river surge and a joining occurs. Sometimes it generates large clashes of waves. At other times, the strength of the encounter does not show as much on the surface. Yet, underneath, both bodies of water are being transformed. A new creation emerges.
Rivers and oceans surge within each of us, bringing both the nurturing waves of life and heavy buried sediments of our disappointments and grief. Steady rhythms and interruptions of chaos.
Our inner waters are always seeking places to flow. To heal. To transform.
We often create a jetty to keep parts of ourselves separate or to reign in wild waters. Because it feels safer. Because someone told us to hide parts of ourselves. Or said to not make waves or create strong currents that challenge the status quo.
It takes fierceness to claim who we are, how we look, who we love, what we believe. We risk crossing sand bars of old sediment to allow a meeting of the parts of ourselves we have segmented. Clashes are inevitable and they are not the final determinate of a life. They are a way towards freedom.
It was like the Cantina tavern scene from Star Wars, only on a public ocean beach. It wasn’t pretty.
We were headed to San Luis Obispo, California, when Bill saw the sign for Pismo State Beach. “Let’s stop there,” he said. We had made sandwiches for a picnic lunch along the way.
Pismo is the only beach in California where it is permitted to drive a standard highway vehicle along the shore. This is critical information for this story.
Our turnoff led to the Oceano Campground area which is close to the sand dunes. A check-in booth was at the end of the road which then turned into sand and led to the beach. A line of vehicles waited for admittance to drive on the sand. A line of vehicles on the beach was coming towards the booth, done with their day’s adventure.
We took our lunches and folding camp chairs and made our way to the beach with a cloudy sky overhead.
It’s hard to describe the scene so I’ll let the pictures that follow do most of the work. Here is a litany of what we saw: A few people walking on the beach, people fishing, recreational vehicles, trucks, many with flags flying from their antennas, cars – including a red sports car, ATV rental buses and vans carrying people off to raucous sand adventures, police patrol trucks with lights on top, bicycles, horses, people walking dogs, a bi-plane soaring in the sky above with “RIDES” painted on its underbelly. Oh, and vehicles stuck in the sand. And people who had fallen from bicycles stuck in the sand. And private trucks offering to pull vehicles out of the sand – for a fee.
People living in the houses abutting the beach are a daily witness to the spectacle. Perhaps a bit like sidling up to the bar and watching the patrons. Plenty to entertain, amuse and sometimes shock.
And yet there was something missing . . .
The Monarch Butterflies who flock to Pismo State Beach and its eucalyptus trees to shelter during the winter had finished their sheltering last month and moved on. Pismo Beach hosts one of the largest colonies of Monarch butterflies in the country; over 25,000 have wintered there over the last five years.
Life is incongruous. I cannot meld the image of the butterflies with the cacophony of the sand parade on the beach. We were there in late winter; summer would be even more wild as this traveler’s picture suggests:
In the end, this was a party that left me with a bad hangover. Whatever are we thinking that we crowd our beaches with machines that ride roughshod on natural beauty as if to say, “we control; we’re in charge.” Human domination run amok.
Across the country this year, the weather has reminded us that we are not truly in charge. Perhaps the weather is having its own party at our expense in a “turnabout is fair play” moment.
They sit on a desert path bordering the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park in Texas: The “No Wall” cans for collecting money and the handmade wire roadrunners and scorpions. Mexico is visible across the river. I put my $6 in a can and take a roadrunner. I wonder who will retrieve the dollar bills as we continue the dusty walk and fade out of sight.
Limestone cliffs with rock art from thousands of years ago line the trail.
I have never been by the Rio Grande river here as it borders our two countries. It seems so peaceful in this spot.
This water and this land have been life-giving for thousands of years to Indigenous communities, Spanish people, Comanche Indians, Mexican settlers, and Anglo-American farmers. In the quiet walk along the path, I hear whispers of those communities through time.
“Histories never conclude; they just pause their prose. Their stories are, if they are truthful, untidy affairs, resistant to windings-up and sortings-out. They beat raggedly on into the future….” Simon Schama.
A short way down the path, modern tourists relax in a hot spring that bubbles with 105-degree ancient water. The spring is surrounded by the remnants of the bathhouse built in the early 1900s by J.O. Langford from Mississippi. A Mexican family was on the land before that. More whispers from the past.
The wire roadrunner in my pocket pokes me. I wonder again about who made it. I am curious about what their future will be. The masking-tape price tag that was wrapped around its neck is now taped to my Kindle. I want to remember that all lives in this world are not equally valued and sustained.
However, there have been valued and sustained relationships between the communities existing across this river from each other.
On President Trump’s inauguration day last January, some of those communities joined together in protest of the suggestion of a new wall. Demonstrating cross-border solidarity and sisterhood, some 50 women from Texas and Mexico gathered along the international pedestrian bridge between El Paso and Juárez to braid their hair together. Xochitl Nicholson, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said the decision to braid hair was symbolic in several ways. “We wanted something that referenced women directly, but that also sends a message about our common heritage and common backgrounds in a broader context,” Nicholson said. “It’s a symbol of collective strength.”
The Rio Grande river flows 1,240 miles between Texas and Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, it changes shape and depth as do the borders on either side. As I gaze across the river to Mexico I see small towns, farms, desert land and beautiful mountains. There is no one definitive way to describe a border.
There is no one definitive way to contain this border. People disagree on what needs containing or if it needs containing at all. Life is complex and to say there are no problems along the border would be naïve.
As I walk with my friend, who lives in the area, she tells me of two friends who were returning to their car at dusk from a hike and saw what appeared to be a drug transaction happening. They rushed to their car hoping not to be shot in the back. Drug dealers don’t leave witnesses alive here, she said. She never goes on the familiar backroad anymore because of too much danger from drug cartels. “Those of us who live around here are concerned about the cartels much more than the others who are crossing.” She does think there should be a program to give people temporary visas to do work in our country. “Many people depend on those workers.”
The roadrunner symbolizes something about the journey that people take across the river “road” – dashing after hopes of a better life or those driven by greed to increase wealth through destroying the lives of others.
Perhaps, like me, your knowledge of a roadrunner was falsely informed by cartoons of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner and the coyote’s numerous failed attempts to catch and contain him.
Watching a real roadrunner dash across the desert, I was reminded they are much more complex than the cartoon depictions I absorbed.
The border is more complex than I knew. I keep the wire roadrunner to remember the human connection at the border. To remember that not having all the answers can be an opening to revelation.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. —Wendell Berry
Post by Diane in honor of the person who made my roadrunner.
A previous post, It’s Worth the Drive, was about the unexpected discoveries of food on the journey. Arguably, not everything is about food…
We left Seattle on February 25th. We had a pretty substantial itinerary ready for us before we left.So, not every stop we made was unexpected. Nevertheless, each stop held something special or unexpected for us. Each stop was worth the drive. Here are some examples:
Our first day was about a 400-mile drive that took us through Central Washington into Eastern Oregon. Once we passed Pendleton we were heading up to the high plains of Oregon into the Blue Mountains. Our first stop was Baker City.
The drive there took us through some spectacular mountain ranges on either side of a long valley. Baker City’s elevation is about 3,000 feet. For the next three weeks, we would stay between 2000 and 7000 feet; with a few dips to about 500 feet. The elevation would change during our drive but the terrain never did; it was spare, dry, open, filled with sagebrush or cactus or small scrub trees, with vistas pulling our eyes to the horizon. We were in what I would call the high desert and would stay there for three weeks.
Baker city has a charm that some small towns seem to wrap around themselves like a warm blanket. Nestled in the mountains, mining is a major part of their identity. Eastern Oregon University is in Baker City and expands the reach of this small town. And a very good local brewery adds to its sense of place. We had good small-town food that first night at Barley Brown’s Brew Pub.
Baker city is worth the drive for some beautiful terrain, an introduction to high plains, and a small town with great character.
Our second day was also a long one, about 450 miles, and it took us from Baker City to Ogden, Utah. We’ve covered part of this drive from Brigham City to Provo, Utah in a previous trip. What I really want to lift up here is that the drive from Brigham to Provo is jaw-dropping. The Wasatch Mountain range is a 100 mile rampart that stretches along the eastern edge of that valley. The Golden Spike (a ceremonial final spike driven to join the rails of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the U.S.) was driven into the earth just a little east of Brigham City. So, whatever your religious affiliation or transportation preferences, this is a Drive that is very much worth taking.
Well, the point of this post is not to give a day by day travel narrative. I will but that must include refreshments at your house. But what I really want to say is that planned or unplanned each day has its own surprises.
So, on the drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Flagstaff, Arizona, we came across a road sign that said Petrified Forest National Park ahead. Well, when I was five years old, my mother, grandmother, uncle and I took a drive from Los Angeles to St. Louis along Route 66 which just happens to go through what is now known as the Petrified Forest National Park. In 1952 it was not yet a national Park but just a stop on the road. We stopped there for a short visit.
Diane and I, on the spur of the moment, decided to take the exit. This is one of those few national parks where the entrance to the park is about 500 feet from the exit ramp.
It was not a promising stop. Every place we looked was flat.We stopped at the visitor center to get some helpful information on how to plan a short tour at the park. A half-mile later we realized that sometimes flat means that you can look down from above and we did. Do I use the words stunning, awesome, beautiful too often? The Grand Canyon has greater grandeur, the Badlands National Park is more intense and its terrain starker, but this park had expansesthat made my heart ache for boundaries. Miles and miles of the beauty of erosion. And an environment that turned wood into stone and has not changed for millennium.
This place, with all its beauty, was not on our itinerary. It was worth every mile of a drive to get there.
Snow doesn’t always cover up; it reveals what cannot be seen in ordinary weather. Taught to see snow as beauty covering the mundane, I now see its deeper purpose: illuminating what I previously could not see which is not as mundane as I thought.
This is both a literal and metaphorical lesson. On the ground and in our country.
Snow flurries were falling in Seattle on the end-of-February morning when we left for our winter road trip. The snow piled high on the eastbound roadside of Snoqualmie Pass was expected. As we headed down the eastern slope into central Washington. I was surprise by what greeted me.
Typically, the rolling hills of this area, during my spring and summer travel, seem to fade into each other; layers of brown. I was familiar with the grasses and small bushes disappearing in their camouflage colors. This year, for the first time, I saw them covered in winter snow. Curves and shadows were accentuated. They drew me in, made me curious, and challenged my narrow view of what this land was like. Small plants stubbornly proclaimed their existence, refusing to let the snow make them invisible or keep them buried. How different this area looked to me.
In Oregon and Idaho, I discovered their winter sides. I had to complicate my perspective of the single stories I had created about these states. Blankets of snow on fields and mountains exposed an unevenness in the landscape that refused to be confined by one definition. It was disorientating.
Listening to the daily news as we traveled, my disorientation increased with the emerging picture of a country different from the one I thought I knew. A winter of discontent has revealed underground plants previously hidden by the obliviousness of privileged contentment. Seeking to grow stronger, these plants, some of them weeds, are being fed by an underground fertilizer of fear and prejudice. They poke up through the snow, seeking reassurance and affirmation that they matter; unaware or uncaring of the cost of their mattering to those who they categorize as “other.” A false prophet lures them with lies that cut away at the roots of that which nourishes lives of love.
Weakening roots cause the growth to be chaotic. Landscapes are shifting and the road through them is not familiar, has unexpected potholes and is causing damage. There are shadows visible that were previously hidden. It is now possible to directly encounter them to understand the factors that form their depths.
Living amidst a shifting landscape can be alarming. Yet, there are also moments of beauty showing up as the landscape resists being destroyed and incorporates changes to rise again in modified and stronger form.
In Being There, a 1979 comedy-drama film, the character, Chance, is a middle aged man who has been a gardner all of his life. It informs his perspective on life. While some would categorize him as “simple-minded,” his use of gardening metaphors impress and inspire people who have lost their way in life. One of the often cited quotes from the movie is this:
“Growth has its season. There are spring and summer, but there are also fall and winter. And then spring and summer again. As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all will be well in the garden.”
Perhaps that is our most important work now. To ensure the roots of our country’s values are not severed. To tend to the garden of freedom and democracy within a changing landscape that reveals things to which we need to pay attention. To know that growth can be painful and walking with others through it will sustain us. To trust that we are forming a new season of spring that will come.