Before I had my kid, my life was like this…
I once sat in a zoo on situated on the edge of a cliff in Spain, where a penguin exhibit overlooked the Atlantic: Santander, where I smoked hashish on top of a staircase with Spanish delivery boys and discovered a drink that involved Coca Cola, red wine, and lime. In London I walked Hyde Park, cold yet warm in my love for its green rain shapes and the sound of the ancestral-spirited wind. I’ve slept in a truck bed on the side of the 101, in a tent on the beach in Port Aransas, and atop a cold sandy beach near Tijuana. I ate mushrooms and stayed up all night long perched atop a red rock long in the Mojave Desert, where I listened to the coyotes and felt the hum of the moon penetrate a field of foxtail cactus and Joshua Trees. In a tropical rainforest at the ruins of Tikal, I heard the terror of the howler monkeys and let the powers of humidity, sweat, and noise heal me. I once spent a summer sleeping in a tent in between a corn field a soybean field in Iowa during a heatwave. With hippies, I swam naked in the hot springs of Mt. Rainier. With born-again Christians, I swung off rope swings into ponds the ponds of the Mark Twain National Forest. High on LSD, I skinny-dipped with the glow-in-the dark phytoplankton off the coast of Oregon. In New York City I ate steamed pork buns in the dark corner of a dim sum restaurant and watched as the waitstaff illegally bet on a Knicks game. I ate shark fin in Bangkok and watched Muay Thai boxing in the mountains of Chiang Mai, where a a flautist played a free-jazz tune straight off of Pharoah Sanders’s Thembi. I walked deep into the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, rode bikes across Phnom Penh, and went swimming in Sihanoukville with the little girls who were clearly sex slaves that lived in the coastal brothels off the Gulf of Thailand. In Guatemala I got so stoned that the waves of Lake Atitlan spoke to me, and later that night I sat outside of a church where seven indigenous women played guitar and sang Spanish hymns and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.
After I had my kid I stopped travelling. People say that the adventure stops when you have kids. I almost caved to this nonsensical theory, as travelling with a kid-in-tow is next to impossible, especially as a broke-ass, single-mom. I’ve of course given up the more dangerous elements of my adventurous spirit. Sadly, I almost gave up my adventurous spirit altogether—but all wanderers know that the travel bug never truly goes away.
Several years ago my brother got married in Cashiers, North Carolina, which sits in between the Nantahala and Chattahoochee National Forests, just south of the Smokies. My daughter was two; it was the first time I’d travelled as a single mom. I was nervous on the flight and although it was stressful, it definitely wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be. After the flight into Atlanta, we drove for two hours to the cabin. The sun was setting as we winded deep into what looked like a possible Deliverance-type situation. I remembered then why I love to travel: I like to experience others’ culture as an outsider. Being a traveller is like being a detective inside of a culturally-aware, pulp mystery novel. I’m the detective that gets to figure out the group-soul of a place.
It was October, the leaves were turning, there were seemingly random pop-up pumpkin patches every mile, and the Cashiers Farmers Market made the misty morning air smell dank with baked cinnamon apples, caramelized pumpkin butter, and either smoked pork shoulder or burning piñon or both. The trees were so tall and shook in unison, as though they were praising the holy-Shakti-life-force-goddess herself and blessing me with some new, luminous blessing regarding undulation and oneness. I was there to celebrate love and family and my new sister-in-law’s wedding colors were deep, gem hues like indigo and violet and magenta and emerald green. It was tantalizing and sensual and beautiful and I officially really I missed traveling.
On our last-day I took my daughter on a waterfall tour. We set off in the morning at 6:30 AM even though I was a bit hungover from the festivities the night before. The first waterfall was hidden, just off the side of a farm-to-market road. We hiked a short while through the grey morning fog atop a wet ground covered in maroon and yellow and red leaves. We crossed a handmade bridge. I walked behind my daughter and admired her the ridiculous adorableness of her knitted, fox-ear beanie and toddler-sized hoodie. We walked behind the waterfall and sat in a cave that was soft with moss and we listened to water as it fell, which sounds like when you listen to a shell make the sound of an ocean—magical like, all-things-at-once like. I felt pressure to explain to my daughter something about science or water, or something about American history and the use of canoes, or maybe something about the symbolism of the waterfall in the literary tradition, but instead we shared the experience in silence and peace.
The second waterfall, on the South Carolina edge of the forest, was touristy and filled with amateur photographers with expensive cameras, which were mounted atop tripods that blocked my daughter’s view. This waterfall plunged down the side of a mountain and just across from it was a sweeping golden valley. I asserted for my daughter, “I’d like to stand, with my daughter, in front of your camera for about two minutes so that she can see the waterfall.” And then, without waiting for an answer, I just moved in front of one of the photographers. Demanding space for me and my kid in that moment was empowering.
Entranced by some bluegrass jam from a radio station in Asheville, my daughter fell asleep on the way to the third waterfall, which wasn’t particularly awe inspiring anyway. But, I was wearing my favorite pair of beat-up, brown leather, lace-up Justin boots, a flannel, and an autumn cardigan with Southwestern pattern on the lining, and my hair was in two braids like Pocahontas but also like Willie Nelson…so I jumped out of the car and had some tourists snap an obligatory picture, jumped right back in to drive us to the last waterfall on our tour.
The fourth waterfall was an almost two-mile hike down a steep hill. Everyone on this trail seemed pretty legit—no one donned flip-flops and most of the middle-aged hikers utilized walking sticks (that’s some serious business). So down we went. The waterfall traversed down a two-mile mountain; it changed forms along the way—big and huge and plunging at times, at others, shallow and more like a rapid traveling over and through big boulders. I carried my daughter, piggy-back-style, down half of the mountain (and back up). Very strong-looking men and women (who looked like they probably do triathlons) nodded at me with looks of recognition as I passed them up. We stood in reverence at each viewpoint. On the way up my daughter was close to melt-down phase so I sang every song I knew all the words too, which happen to be mostly Bob Marley.
We drove back to the cabin at twilight, both of us lost in that comfort of being exhausted after a day in the sun, with just the faint hum of a mandolin and the low-frequency vibrations of our imaginations and daydreams.
The reason I fell in love with travel the second time remain the same as the first. I love to learn about myself and others, I love to experience the multitudinous forms of life on this planet while I get to live on it, and I love to become psychically stronger through such adventurous risks. These are now some of the important things I want to teach my daughter.
The spring following my brother’s wedding, I drove us on our first mother-daughter road trip. We went west, across I-10; we drove for 10 hours, deep into the Chihuahuan desert, along the Mexican border. We drove through Presidio, just across the Rio Grande, where Pancho Villa stationed his troops. We drove past Ruidosa, a ghost town that Cabeza de Vaca was rumored to have found, then seven miles down an isolated, gravel road, where our cabin stood alone, next to the sign for an obscure hot spring. I let my daughter sit on my lap and eat Skittles as we winded down Hot Springs Road, windows down. We arrived; I unpacked; Edith Anne and our terrier, Andy, explored the canyon.
The second full day I drank Negro Modelos and my daughter colored all over herself. We walked the grounds of the ruins of the Sacred Heart Mission. No Catholic remnants were left, only strange baby dolls tied to chicken wire, toilets that were used as plant pots, and scrap metal. There were men who looked like they might be laying down concrete. It smelled like cheap weed. It’d finally gotten hot. That evening we took another silent hike—the cold air, all-embracing. She was fascinated by the rocks: she’d pick one up only to drop it as soon as she saw another, better rock.
I once saw a psychologist who told me that when she went to the desert. The limitlessness of no boundaries was so unnerving that she had to get back into the car. In order to feel safe, she had to impose some limits and boundaries on herself. She must have thought that she was imparting nuggets of wisdom to a naive (and radically open) young me who, from her perspective, was dangerously pushing the “limits.” But honestly, in the desert I felt so close to my daughter and to all living and vibrating things. I only found freedom, not fear, in the borderless, infinite silences of the desert. I saw creosote for miles. I watched how the ocotillo branches ascend toward the sun, how they allow their pink flowers to lilt back toward Earth with an acceptance of gravity and the calling of the mud. In the desert, my vision was changed as I meditated for hours on shades of white and blue. In the desert I saw colors electrically buzz into one another.
In the desert, I saw how everything is always and only buzzing, how beauty is noise melt into sound. I will always wander, and I will never impose unnecessary boundaries on me or my daughter (again)…because what is life but just a tour of waterfalls, wind and rocks, me and you, sand and space.
BIO: Patton Quinn
“I currently work in the Freshman Writing Program at St. Edward’s University, where I teach Rhetoric and Composition I & II. My other work can be seen in McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies, Elephant Journal, and Rebellesociety.com. When not working or cooking or cleaning, I’m generally caring for plants, taking walks with my daughter and our dog, or painting on the balcony. The next travel adventure I have in mind is a bicycle tour across Vietnam.”