To my mother's lifelong chagrin I'm not and never was a religious person. I was a skeptic at a ridiculously early age. Of course, over the years, one would hope we evolve. While I'm still fiercely skeptical I allow for, and try to be open to, new insights and experiences - call them religious or spiritual, or what you will.
In my life I've had two of, I guess, what one would call "out of body" experiences. Not surprisingly they were both in nature and both in the great Southwest and, no, I wasn't drinking at the time. The first was in Arches National Park in 1994 and the other in Southeastern Arizona just a few years ago. In both instances, as I drove into Arches National Park and Chiricahua National Monument I had to pull over to the side of the road because I felt light headed. Then, after taking a deep breath, I actually felt as if something deep inside of me was rising out of my body and expanding into the outdoors. Weird, huh? Here's the thing though - it was a deeply "connected" spiritual experience.
The great playwright (and my favorite) Eugene O'Neill described this much more poetically and eloquently than I can when he wrote in, "Long day's Journey into Night" the following:
"You've just told me some high spots in your memories. Want to hear mine? They're all connected with the sea. Here's one. When I was on the Squarehead square rigger, bound for Buenos Aires. Full moon in the Trades. The old hooker driving fourteen knots. I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself -- actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself! To God, if you want to put it that way."
O'Neill gets it precisely right. I felt as if I was dissolving for a few minutes. Of course, both times, after I felt myself come back into myself, I was overwhelmed and tearful and grateful and full of humility and love for having this gift of life bestowed on me. What a literal mind-blower.
You know, of course, I've tried to get that to happen again and it hasn't and I doubt it will. It's not something I can will to happen - it is organic and ethereal and can't be manufactured.
It's so weird, of course, that I seldom, if ever, discuss this with anyone. Yet, here I am writing a blog post about it! Old age has clearly corrupted me and now I'm probably oversharing and it's TMI and all but I don't give a damn. It happened.
The irony is that one of my worst Ranger interactions happened in Chiricahua the very next time I went to visit. In fact, if my first visit was a "peak" experience let's call this one a "valley". I'd planned on camping and pulled into a site and began unloading my camp stove when a Ranger walked up and said, "You can't leave any of that stuff outside your truck". I was momentarily confused and the Ranger said, "We have a strict policy. Nothing left outside - either in your vehicle or tent". I explained that I had to remove some things because I slept in the back of my truck and couldn't fit all my gear in the cab of my truck. Ranger said, "Well, then, I don't know what to tell you but it doesn't look like you can camp here".
I understood why Edward Abbey called them the "Tree Fuzz" (despite being one himself for a couple of years). I've camped all over the West and never met a more obnoxious and unhelpful Ranger. In fact, I love most of them I meet. They're underpaid and under appreciated and protectors of our most cherished places.
Still, it was apparent that this particular Ranger hadn't gotten the customer service memo. So, I thought, to Hell with it. I'll just drive back to Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoons. Of course, before I did I wanted to drive up the road and go to the Visitor Center to express my dismay. As I pulled out of the campground, at say, 15 mph, another Ranger with his window rolled down, gave me the universal "slow down" sign by moving his hand up and down. I couldn't believe it. I could only go slower by stopping. Two fools in one 15 minute period. I drove to the Visitor Center and they said the "Head Ranger" would call me.
He did call the next day. He left two messages. The first was actually to me when he said that, "while we have no bears we follow best practices for camping" and the second, was when he apparently, dialed the wrong number, and was all about personal information that I had no business knowing. Honestly. Talk about weird and inept and disheartening.
So there you have it. Life in a nutshell - lots of weirdness, banality, oddities and a few moments of existential bliss.
Of course, I've been back to Chiricahua. I took Lupe and then actually made reservations to camp there with the Casita. One week before my arrival date I received an email telling me that, due to construction issues, the campground would be closed despite my reservations. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.
Oh land of Chiricahua - how I love thee.
The humans? Not so much.
Of course, I'll be back. And soon.
So there you have it. As the great Jeffrey Lebowski said, "Strikes and gutters, my friends, strikes and gutters."
My entire working life I dreamed of, one day, having the time to be on the open road and live the life of a part time vagabond and traveler of the American West. The last few years, I suppose one could say, I've been truly "living the dream". I thought it would be enjoyable to recap those years in terms of my personal experiences both as an exercise in re-living many of my trips and, perhaps, to stimulate my readers minds to visit some of the same places. I will recall my funniest moments, happiest moments, coldest moments, strangest, etc. This, my saddest moment, is the first post of the endeavor.
I was motivated to do this blog project while listening to the free book on Audible.com called "The Home Front: Life in America during WW2" (which I highly, highly recommend). Stories of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated at concentration camps (euphemistically called internment camps) all over America reminded me of the most crushing moment of my travels when I visited the Manzanar concentration camp off Highway 395 near the Eastern Sierra Nevada.
I have, perhaps like many others of us, experienced deep and profound injustice and loss in my life and as I walked around the camp I immersed myself in thinking about what life must have been for these people, torn from their homes, belongings sold or absconded, and the simple plain horror of that. The historical site, designated in 1992, has now built similar barracks and other features of the camp to help people, like me, fully comprehend the plight of those of Japanese ancestry in our country at the onset of World War II until 1945. It is a deeply touching and profound experience. As I meandered around on that typically windy and hot day I was overcome by sadness and frustration with our world and my country.
At the end of my visit I decided to check out the visitor center and bookstore. When I walked in I was surprised to find many families of Japanese ancestry in the Center. I spoke to the Rangers at the front desk and began wandering through the bookstore when I saw a young Japanese family, a mother , father and their small, perhaps 5 year old, son near one of the bookshelves. The father was stooped over explaining to his son that his grandfather had been held at Manazar. The little boy looked very confused and then softly said, "But, why Daddy, why?" The father simply looked away with tears in his eyes.
I was overwhelmed with sadness and grief and anger at the injustice. As I write this today I still am.
In the next few weeks (months?) I'll be listing some of my favorite memories of my life on the road. I hope you'll enjoy reading them as much as I will sharing them.
In the meantime, especially in today's political milieu, you might consider a visit to one of our great National Historical Monuments - Manzanar wouldn't be a bad place to start.
I've included some photos that I took that day. Since my photography is a bit better these days I need to go back and do it justice. In the meantime...
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.