Leaning on Nothing
“Outside your window a bird
steps carelessly onto air and air
buoys him. How must it feel to lean
on nothing, until that nothing lifts you”
~ Lois Beebe Heyna
What was I thinking?
Actually, at first it was something on the order of, ooo, Utah road trip, tall, and way cute Scotsman, brilliant guy, brilliant sky, red rocks, screamer vistas, new jewelry, and campfires. How good is that? But really, it was a way to survive the West, which I do realize, is where I live.
It’s this awful “eX” thing: how do you cross out 17 years of your life?
It’s gotten so bad, just the word, Arizona, gives me a stomachache. All those years, it was the best we ever were, side by side roadtripping; we went everywhere, a criss-cross of hilarity, passion, great food, and the phenomenally fantastic. Set to music. Ok, so I don’t listen to Dave Matthews, Carmina Burana or the Allman Brothers for a few years. That I guess I can handle. But Colorado? Montana, Idaho, Oregon? The Rand-McNally Road Atlas is my idea of a tearjerker. I know how it ends, and it’s not with Washington State.
Don’t say Telluride to me, please, or Mohave, or Bonneville salt flats. I learned the hard way what a man means when he says he needs space.
I just couldn’t continue in the 1/2ness that being left leaves you. So I went back, physically, to catch up with myself, like dropped stitches in a finely knit piece, to re-weave the red rocks of Moab, the chocolaty meander of the San Juan, the miles of roads glamorous by way of uplift and erode, sandstone cliffs, deep brick, buff, the greens of volcanic ash, and slickrock faces etched with the desert varnish of iron and manganese, back into my life.
I flew to Salt Lake City to drive back to New Mexico, with a man I knew, well, ok, kinda knew, I mean we had met, and he was entirely interesting and very, very… and I am getting deep in it here: what I mean to say is I wasn’t totally heading into the longest blind date in history, but I definitely had an oy yoy yoy moment or two on the plane.
The first of many, many hours poring over our map, a very sexy Utah Atlas and Gazetteer that gave me the safe one-state-at-a time approach, began auspiciously in the Beehive Teashop in SLC. Over cups of correctly brewed Pu-erh (me), green gunpowder (him) and seriously lovely creamy spinach and artichoke hearts on tender, fresh made marble rye (him) and schoolgirl perfect (ie, no pickle relish) tuna fish for me, we agreed to go as wonder and wander led us, to stop when it seemed good, to “Wellie” (as in Wellington boots), Scotsspeak for pedal to the metal, as desired: to be pulled by panorama, and come to a screeching halt for beauty.
Then we acquired a selection of teas, and so fortified, tripped about to Goodwillish places and outdoorish gear shops, and assembled a camping cookery and tea scene, with many candles, thick mugs, good plates, and crystal glasses for the wine we would surely attain.
You know, I had, of course, brought Nana’s silver and linens.
Went to Sam Weller’s book Mecca and lingered over rare and out-of-print delicacies, followed by chocolate cake and cocoa. Ahummmm.
Next day, luncheon with Catalyst ‘zine editor, poet and old friend Greta de Jong, at the Avenue Bakery, featuring the Miraculous Appearance of Perfect Bread, and off to an OmyLord- pinch-me, splendid start, with a sensationally crusty loaf of walnut gorgonzola.
And it only got better.
Drove through San Rafael Swell, to Wedge Overlook, a vista junkie’s Nirvana in deep slot canyon form, sat with our legs dangling over the vast edge, swifts in the air above, a swoop and soar over 270 million years of Technicolor deposit and erode; seeing from here to the Triassic, in appropriate astound.
Had some of every climate, pitched our tents in a near gale in Richfield, in a KOA filled with Memorial Daying families, and RVs as big as small towns. Feasted on gargantuan onion rings in a diner with red table phones to place your order.
Made petrogyphs and pictograph sites a Must See priority, entranced again and again by their eerie familiarity: stories and figures we know in our ancestral bones and intimate dreaming.
Became aficionados of Hoo Doos, those solitary rock formations turned on a lathe of wind and weather, the ancient ones called Legend People, towering about us, asking the truly operative question of the journey.
Noticed how in desert spring, everything blooms idiosyncratic –from the blare of vivid to achingly subtle. Cholla blossoms astonishes with crimson, the shrubby cinquefoil a quiet buttery bloom, rabbit grass greens up, a surprise so wildly chartreuse, as if water was an of course, which, of course, it is not. Yuccas send up a huge stalk ringed with white bells, their inner petals, stained the color of bruise. It’s a much and more kind of thing, once you can see it, and I could.
The landscape said it all, took me profoundly in; the way the Colorado River had cut deep grooves through the many stratum, Entrada through to Paradox, a vast layer cake of time in Crayola hues.
Even our breakdown was fabulous. Lost the brakes totally, while at a dead stop in a gas station, got towed, no problema: rural women always have 100+ AAA, it’s our version of a Neiman’s card. Lanky, local Lyle and 3- year-old daughter Cheyenne, 150% Daddy’s girl, just hoisted us off where we were going anyway, straight to Arches Repair, where they were, of course, open on Sunday and we were in, ahhhh, Moab.
Saw X-Men and shared a vast quantity of buttery salted popcorn, washed it down with soda. Stayed, bless him, til the end of the credits. Microbreweried, and sipped icy 3.2 beers, Elephant Hefeweizer with lemon, and Scorpion ale (“the ale that stings”) so crazy good, and nachos too big to finish. Dining by firelight on gnocchi and pesto under every possible star. Potash road, rocker’s paradise, and fresh spring water for the taking on 128. Boated down the Colorado River in the moonlight, (avec a soupçon too much narration, but STILL – there we were, down in the swirl and curl of what we had been seeing from way above. Perspective shifts, the great blessing of travel – and staying, amazingly, in a blaze of right here, right now, in the Zen of when and where.
And the divine Scotsman braked for rock shops and hats, taught me Scottish words for hills, for rivers, for flowers, introduced me to incredible new music – Eddie Reader, Hazel O’Connor, and fiddlers extraordinaire, Capercaille, and lent me a phieleagh mhor, (that most romantic of fabrics that is pleated into kilt) on cold nights in the high country. Turned & drove back if we’d missed somewhere that might be good, which is just so very not a guy thing, and is just so very cool.
It was utterly igneous, and metamorphic.
The landscape healed me, brought me to a wholeness that allowed the broken.
A landscape formed by the multitudinous escapades of water and wind, by fire and freeze, by thaw and crack, a story of time told in rock face, and an overwhelm of distance, that brought majesty and wild order to chaos.
From Dead Horse Point, 300 million years and 2000 feet of sedimentary dropaway, I stood looking over towards the Uncompaghres, a range I had hiked many times, and looked over towards the laccolithic La Sal’s, which I could also see from where I now stood. That said it all and I cried the kind of good tears that can both finish and start.
Through this journey– through the seeing, tasting, sensually alert right-here-and- nowness – my present found a way to contain, and resonant with, my past.
I re-visited much I have loved and known. Made new memories that ease the stab of the old without erasing them – came back through; woman arriving at whole and sole, at the epi-center of my own life, by way of adventure and awe. And I learned to pitch my own tent, laughing in a kind of goofy bliss every time.
Returned to Santa Fe, via the red rock reprise of Jemez, past Soda Dam and the Caldera, places my ex and I had often taken the children, and now they belong to me again.
Landed, brilliantly, in Santa Fe, at Maria’s New Mexican, for Ultimate Margs and apps. And now to this page; home again home again, jiggity jig.
But we’ll always have Moab.
BIO: JUDYTH HILL has nine published books of poetry include Dazzling Wobble and Tzimtzum, and I authored the internationally acclaimed poem, Wage Peace; widely anthologized, set to music, performed and recorded by national choirs and orchestras.
PHOTO BY SARAH LEAMY: Outside of Moab, Utah 2011