I’m sure you’ve probably noticed: the past five months have been tumultuous for us. In September our family left San Luis Obispo, our home for 10 years, bound for Austin, TX, with fingers crossed that I’d have better luck finding a job in a bigger city. How we ended up in Everett, WA is a very interesting story that bears telling. As does the story of how my continuing love affair with the natural world was only made stronger by driving across four states.
I was thinking recently about our general disconnectedness as a culture, and how the threads of our existence are only tenuously attached to others, even to our family. This is not surprising, given that I just spent Christmas in a new town without extended family.
One of the reasons for this tenuous connection has to do with the vagabond nature of our existence: a move always tugs at the threads–even if it’s just down the street or across town. Turn that move into a 1,766 mile odyssey to a place you’ve never visited and many of the threads will snap, some permanently.
Other threads are almost infinitely elastic. I found two that—as they were stretched—actually seemed to grow thicker and stronger: my connection to my family and my connection to the natural world.
The move was predicated on my need for work. I had been holding out for more recruitment consulting work, but after five straight months of nothing our funds were running low and we had to make a decision: find some menial work and pray for the economy to recover or take a deep breath and dive into the unknown. After applying to several of the aforementioned menial jobs and getting no response or a rejection, our second option quickly turned into our only option. (I actually did a couple of really cool green landscaping projects while I was waiting for my consulting to pick up. I’ll write about those in upcoming posts).
We packed the cars, threw most of our stuff into storage (literally threw: our storage is a disaster), craiglisted or freecycled the rest, and made for Austin, where Denette’s sister lived at the time.
Our last stop in California was a fittingly idyllic setting: the beachside bungalows of Crystal Cove, where we stayed with one of my friends from college. Despite all the upheaval of the past few months, a few minutes in Jessi’s house and the stress evaporated, leaving me instantly lighter, happier, and less scattered. Later that afternoon in Jessi’s livingroom, watching the waves roll in from the endless expanse of blue and gray, my visceral connection to the water welled up in me. I wanted to spend the rest of my life on the beach and in the water. I settled for a few hours on the beach, fresh fish tacos, and a wonderful night listening to the surf and breathing in the salt tang.
Our only non-nature-centered stop was in Las Vegas. And it was Las Vegas that cemented my desire to be outdoors and to experience natural as opposed to man-made wonders. Not really a fan.
Our main destination was the Grand Canyon. It is every bit as breathtaking as I had heard, and equally as frustrating to capture on film. But I tried. Oh, how I tried.
It’s scale demands your presence. And the sheer variety of each unique formation invites you to explore the landscape in minute detail. I was sorely tempted to plunge down the Bright Angel Trail for a day of total immersion. It beckons to me even now. The Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite at the floor of the canyon—those rocks most recently exposed by the sandpaper action of the Colorado–are around 2 billion years old. The latent dynamism of the canyon is intoxicating. Despite the relative sparseness of plants, life is everywhere, even in the rocks.
But the best part by far was the uninterrupted time I spent with Denette and the kids. No electronic disturbances; everything within bicycle distance; the fresh, cool, pine-scented air; the open fire and the aroma of woodsmoke; the ravens barnstorming between the trees with only the flash of black and the whooshing of air between their pinfeathers to mark their presence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as my connection to nature grew more powerful, so did my connection to my family.
As a quick aside, I want to mention that I recently watched Ken Burns’ series, National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Seeing the fistfight for control between greedy and destructive “capitalists” (more like thieves masquerading as businessmen) and those men genuinely interested in preserving the Grand Canyon’s natural beauty for future generations, I felt a new pride that we as a country were able to rally and to create such an inspirational and farsighted system as the national parks.
Our next stop was an unplanned one: signs on the road announced Meteor Crater. With a name like that, we had to stop. I’m so glad we did.
Logan was taken with the program that allowed you to blow up a computer-generated earth with a comet the size of the moon. You probably won’t be surprised that I left the exhibit a little rattled and thinking about the precariousness of our existence.
This noticeable scar outside of Winslow, AZ made our celestial connection very real. Here was 2.4 miles of circular evidence that we live in an active, chaotic universe, and that things don’t always happen in geologic time. Which made me all the more cognizant of the beauty of each and every day.
If this story seems to be mostly about rocks that’s because it is. I’m not sure if that has to do with the path of our travel or my preferences. And we’re not done yet. Our final destination of note is about entirely about rocks. Tons of rocks.
The most overwhelming stop was our last. Carlsbad Caverns is, quite simply, mind blowing: a completely alien world made of things we see every day. Beneath 750 feet of solid rock, an admixture of minerals form the most impossibly exquisite designs I have ever seen.
And if I was in awe, then the kids were overwhelmed. The were fascinated with the colors and textures, and the fact that we were beneath 750 feet of solid rock, something Logan continuously and gleefully reminded Denette about. (Denette was NOT excited about this fact).
The kids’ excitement only increased my own. There are over 110 caves in the Carlsbad system, some of them accessible through guided tours, and I plan to return for more.
By the time we reached Texas we were focused on our destination, the city of Austin, one of the greenest cities in the country. And, as I’ll write about in my next post, being green was something they celebrated in a big way. The Texas way.