Archive for November 5th, 2009

Rest and Motion

Bodies need rest as well as motion, and I was lucky enough to realize this before I set forth on this journey. So while my itinerary was loose at best, I had indeed hoped to stay in Colorado for four or five days.  The day after my birthday, alone in my friend Daniel’s house, I wrote, packed, and played with the kittens one last time before making the short drive south to my cousins’ house in the Denver suburbs.  My days in Boulder had felt like falling into a featherbed:  the suspense of my looming birthday was inexorably resolved; my disembodied friendship with Daniel had actually discovered its unlikely form in the three-dimensional world; and I had at last met the salvation of ascending into the upper reaches of nature, stretching past the familiar to feel the paradoxical sense of super-oxygenation found in the vast sphere above 10,000 feet.

As I drove southeast from Boulder to Denver, the plains of eastern Colorado lay before me, Boulder’s Flatirons and the Rocky Mountains behind me.  It was another gorgeous day, and as I looked in my rear-view mirror, I was again awed by what I saw.  There, perfectly framed, were what may well have been the still-snowy peaks where Daniel and I had gone on my birthday.  With no safe place to pull over, stop, and gape, I drove on, my heart beginning to hurt at that exquisite view falling behind me.  The mountains had begun to have a mystical hold on me, and I felt deep sadness driving away from them.

As I drove through the exurbia that links Boulder to Denver, the road bent gently, and to my surprise and delight, there were the mountains again – off in the distance a bit, but there on my right side!  Bathed in relief, joy, and the sudden ability to exhale again, I continued southward smiling once more, reassured by the company of that stony eminence, which I could now see stretching the panoramic length of the westward plain.  Despite the 64-degree sunshine on the road, the ridge of the mountains remained tipped in white, a sight that filled me with cheer and odd comfort.

The drive to Denver’s southern suburbs was surprisingly quick, and I arrived at my cousin Beth’s house easily on Friday afternoon.  This was the first time I’d been to visit Beth and her family.  My closest-aged relative, and yet not technically a blood relation (my uncle is her stepfather), Beth and I have typically seen each other only on state occasions or her annual visits east.  When I lived west, she lived east, and then at some point we switched.  But a few years ago during one of her visits, we had a conversation that I probably could not have had with most of my other relatives.  Since then, while our contact has been sporadic, I have appreciated our ability to cut through the superficial, and share a certain kind of language and viewpoint that is perhaps less than conventional.  I spent a relaxed Friday evening at home with Beth and her family, writing madlibs together over the cupcakes she made for my birthday, and talking more seriously with Beth and her husband Paul after the kids went to bed.  I asked them many questions about life in Colorado, as neither were locals (Beth was raised in New Jersey, Paul in the UK).  We discussed the difficulties of living far from family, and the attractions and attributes of living in the west.  I had felt so different since arriving in the west that I felt I needed a reality check.  But as Beth said with a demonstrative sweep of both arms while we were out for a walk the next morning, “The sky really is bigger out here!”

My comfortable Colorodan rest-period spent, Saturday I was headed back down to Albuquerque.  But first I said yes to taking that walk with Beth and Paul, not a mistake even though it meant hitting the road a little late.  I’d spent a lot of time picking their brains about Colorado, but talk was no substitute for walking one of Denver’s excellent trails on a warm autumn morning.  And it was good to stretch my legs one last time before getting back on the highway.  While this day’s drive would still be through unfamiliar territory, it marked the beginning of my return eastward, something I was less than keen to ponder.

By noon-ish, I was headed down I-25, my destination for the evening back at Ty’s in Albuquerque.  I had been given several wildly differing estimates of how long that would take, but everyone recommended stopping en route in Colorado Springs to see Garden of the Gods. I wasn’t sure what it was, how far away it was, or how easy it would be to find, but thought I’d give it a try.  Not realizing how close Colorado Springs is to Denver, I was surprised to arrive there about half an hour after leaving Beth’s.  Signage was good, and I found my way to this Garden of the Gods easily, and drove the loop road through the grounds.  This place was extraordinary – it was as if someone had taken the rock formations from Arches and plunked them down at the foot of the mountain I’d seen on my birthday!  In reality, Garden of the Gods is in a desert basin at the foot of Pike’s Peak, which itself was the inspiration for the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” (I am one of the more enthusiastic plaque-readers in this world).  The red rock formations jut up out of the high desert at cockeyed angles and in multifarious forms, all while this mammoth, over-14,000-foot behemoth stares down at them for all eternity, as if they were so many servants genuflecting in their own finery at the royal’s feet.  It was a baffling and stunning landscape to behold.

I carried on southward through Colorado on I-25, which is mostly a nice, straight, flat road, with the company of the Rocky Mountains along the western edge all the way down.  There are not enough clichés in the English language for all the lovely views I beheld, some of the best of which were in the rear-view mirror.  Take that on faith, for I could not describe them all and do any of them justice.  I was glad to be back on the road, and just felt good, really quite good.  It had been a long time since I’d felt able say that.  I didn’t feel confused, agitated, angst-ridden, fearful, or depressed, yet was aware that nothing in the conditions of my life had really changed.  Except for the fact that I’d driven 3,737 miles in the last two weeks.  I realized I had left Philly two Saturdays earlier, almost exactly to the hour.  In the middle of seeming nowhere, I suddenly thought “I should check to see if I have a cell signal,” and then I thought “I don’t care!”  It was then that I realized I had stopped being afraid back in Utah, that the fear had stopped at Colorado’s door.  Granted I’d been stationary of late, and staying with friends and family, where I could really relax and feel secure.  But I made a mental note to see if it would stick, that absence of fear.  For the time being, I wondered if Colorado “cured” me.

As I drove through Colorado, loving those mountains, I found myself thinking about where I’d been so far on this trip:  the Grand Canyon, Arches, Monument Valley, mountaintops.  I thought about how I was seeking things, vistas, nature, that by definition would make me feel small.  I craved wide open sky, wanted things to be huge around me (even though this had briefly terrified me in Arizona); whatever impulse I had for this exploration was to seek things that really made me feel smaller than I did at home.  I wondered if back home, I was somehow getting too big for my own existence, even though it seemed that nothing was really happening.  I wondered if perhaps the only way I could think of to get outside of myself, not feel limited, was to go to something HUGE.

Driving through Colorado was also the first time and place on this trip that I’d been really singing out along with the stereo, loud and happy.  I have trouble singing unless I feel good, and knew this to be a sort of barometer.  I questioned what the role of Sarah the Healer might be in some of this “transformation” (if indeed it was that).  I don’t know if I believe in everything she’s into, but she absolutely appeared to catalyze some change that helped ground me and dissolve that feeling of raw vulnerability I’d been carrying around, and quickly at that.  I had left her feeling more serene and undefendedly open to everything I had encountered since.  Who knows how else she may have assisted me?

I also couldn’t help thinking about something my cousin Paul had said the night before.  Paul had spoken about finding the east coast very fear-based (which at the time had made me nearly leap out of my easy chair – except that I was far too at ease).  This had resonated for me, absolutely.  I knew that distinction was one dimension of the difference I felt in myself since arriving in the west.  I didn’t fully understand it, but given all the potential questions and ambiguities I was facing, both before I left Philadelphia, and since I’d gone out on the road, I was surprised that I now felt so good.  I would not have expected it, but feel good I did.

Garden of the Gods

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