The Color of Dust

Outside the train’s window the yellow dust fills the air, turning all the light into a golden glow. As I watch the land pass by I take a deep breath and find that some tight place in me has released. Some tension in me has softened. Maybe in all this open space I finally have enough room to breathe. Maybe I’ve left my cares behind at the station, if only for a while. Or maybe I am just glad to get the hell out of Utah. Salt Lake City was not my place.

I’m sensitive to atmospheric changes. Every place has it’s own character and that soaks right into me. Salt Lake City gave me a strange sense of ennui. I felt a little offthe whole time I was there. It’s hard to describe. The feeling came from small things, from a deserted plaza, a place designed for noise and movement that is silent and abandoned. Like a house that is too clean to really feel like home. I wandered through, waiting for my friend to get off work, and my footsteps echoed on the naked concrete walls and planter beds.

The feeling comes again as I sit on a packed train from Sandy to downtown. There are people in colors for a team I don’t know, families heading into town for a game. A guy sits in the seat across from me. From the corner of my eye I get an impression of torn jeans and dark tattoos. I glance at him and consider saying something, starting conversation in the hopes we might find some connection. I have this feeling, one I can’t quite explain, that the way we appear to one another puts us on opposite sides of something. Some divide of social circumstance. I wonder what he thinks of me and if it would change if he knew me. But he doesn’t know me and he gives off a palpable sense of hostility. He pulls a long folding knife from his jeans pocket, turning it over in his hands, opening, closing it. He doesn’t look at me but I have that odd sense that his attention is on me, even if his eyes are not. I stare out the window, arrange my face into a mask of boredom. Unconcerned. Whatever, the set of my shoulders proclaims. But I wonder what he means by it. I sit and wonder and he sits with his knife, folding, unfolding, folding again. When we get to my stop I stand, walk to the door. As I get off I glance back at him. He is still sitting, his eyes carefully trained downward. He snaps the knife shut and slips it into his pocket. I get off the train and it carries him away from me.

Light heartThere are sharp edges hidden in this place and I’m glad that this train is putting miles between me and Salt Lake City. I stare out the window and there is nothing but golden light for as far as I can see. We cross the border into Wyoming and I think of what one of my favorite bloggers wrote in her new book. Every time she crosses a state line she throws her cares over her shoulder, leaving them at the border. There’s something to this, isn’t there? Going to a new place has a strange power, an ability to wipe the slate clean. So as we cross into Wyoming and then into Colorado, I feel I really have left my cares behind me. I am empty, wiped clean. Ready for a new beginning, where each day brings a new adventure.

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Gated temples and eating your tail

It was a strange feeling, walking around Temple Square in Salt Lake City. There were so many ways for me to feel unwelcome. I was not from there, I was not mormon, I was not male. Those things that I was not seemed louder there, like the echoes of a bible dropped in a Cathedral, the sound amplified by the space around it.

I know what it is to feel like an outsider.

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The River Why

I only spent one night in Iowa but it gave me a lot to think about. I found a host to stay with on Couchsurfing with a nice condo with a spare room in “downtown” Burlington. It’s very quaint. I think there are less than ten restaurants, total. Iowans don’t really have an accent, but they have a distinct way of speaking. It’s a quiet tone, with odd syllables lengthened here and there like they’re in no hurry to finish a sentence. It made me slow down a bit and that was a good thing in my book. My host told me a bit about his life, his son and his business, and then he asked me ten thousand questions about my life. It was immediately obvious why he liked to host travelers. He just loved to learn about people. He wanted to talk about ideas. He made me really think about things.

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We ended up talking about money and how that’s not what I want to value in life. He asked me what I valued instead and, at the time, I didn’t have an answer for him. Well I’ve thought about it a lot since and now I think I do. I value stories. I find meaning and beauty in life through them. I don’t think its possible to communicate the deeper truths of our world directly—they’re too big to be defined easily. But through telling stories about who we are and what’s important to us I think we can begin to sense their shape. Like the shadow of a whale under water, you can’t see it directly but you know it’s there if you learn what to look for.

That’s why I’m out on this half-baked adventure. I’m here for the stories. I’m here to skim the surface of this world in the hopes of a glimpse of what’s underneath.

Safe travels,

Carol

Freedom, all the way down

My blisters have healed now and it’s time for another adventure. The idea has been in my head for a while now to do some solo travel. Every time I drive out to the mountains my hands start to itch on the steering wheel. When I get to the turn off, part of me wants to just keep on driving. I’m sure you know the feeling. I want to get the hell outta dodge. And it just keeps getting worse. I want to see some new things, meet some new people. Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle and I’ll always come back here. But I need to get away for a bit and have some adventures.

My first idea was to drive in a big loop, visiting National Parks. While that is still on the back burner, I don’t want to do it this year for two reasons.

(1) Driving alone in a car isn’t very sustainable

(3) I can’t write while I drive

Part of what I want most from this trip is to write about my experiences. I used to do a lot of things while driving—I once ate an entire bowl of soup—but I know no one wants me trying to write an essay while driving. I’ve learned the error of my ways and the most I’ll do these days is listen to podcasts and public radio. I did hear a story once about a man who read the paper every morning while driving into work (I think I heard about this on public radio, of course) but I think he must have been an odd case. Or very lucky. So instead I have decided to take public transit. I will ride buses, trains, and other forms of communal land travel. I like the idea of it just being me and a backpack on the road, plus I can write on the bus.

The idea has been living vaguely in the back of my head for months now but today, it became real. Today I bought my first train ticket. I leave Monday. I am so excited! But also terrified. Last night I went into a minor panic about traveling alone, about spending so much time away from my partner. I fell into an uneasy sleep and had dreams about being chased by dinosaurs. Like dinosaur apocalypse.  I don’t know what that means, probably just that I’ve been taking too much Skullcap.  I bought it from an herbalist while I was still a stressed out mess, working at the public defenders office. I’m not sure if it helped me relax, all I could tell was that it gave me incredibly vivid dreams. So I’ve been taking it again recently just because it’s sort of interesting. But I digress. I woke up this morning and felt better. I felt excited again. It’s funny how different you can feel after doing nothing more than sleeping on it.

So on Monday I take the train to Portland. Then on Friday I’m taking an eighteen hour bus ride to Salt Lake City to visit a friend of mine. Then after that I’ll figure out a way to get to Denver. That’s as far as I’ve planned. From there it’s wherever I want to go next. From there I hope to realize that it’s freedom, all the way down.

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Bye for now, Seattle!

 

The National Park Service

I am sitting on a rock on the edge of a lake in Olympic National Park. Hiking always feels like an investment in motion that gives a return in perfect stillness. You walk and walk and walk, paying with the motion of your body to reach moments like this: moments of otherwise unachievable stillness. The rock is warm beneath me and the the air is cold and clean. Pretty little Heart Lake is rippling under shifting winds, and moments of sun warm me to my bones, down to the bottoms of my bare feet. The only noise is the wind and the occasional birdsong. There are pauses, moments of almost perfect silence. How often do we experience such profound quiet in this modern life? Rarely. It has taken much work and many miles to find this.

There is more than just quiet here though. More than sun and wind and the singing of birds. There is a heart to this place, a wild heart, and there are moments when it touches me. Sometimes it brushes up against me and disappears. Sometimes it swallows me completely, absorbing me into it’s fabric so I am no longer myself. No longer the center of my own world. My desires and troubles shrink in the face of such wild majesty. I lose myself and become a part of something far larger. It is a relief, and a gift.

I earned this gift with sweat and pain and steps. I owe it to my feet, my legs, and to the people before me who knew the value of this place long before my feet touched the earth.  There is a long line of people before me who valued these lands, who protected them, and shared them with others. They knew they would need help if they were going to preserve them. They could have kept them for themselves and left no one after them to care for them, but they didn’t. They were part of something bigger.  They understood that the fabric we are part of is more important than the threads of our own lives.

I just wanted to say thank you.

 

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Heart Lake in Olympic National Park