Well, I have finally returned to AlwaysWandering since February on the last day of the year. Better late than never I guess. Graduate school has been keeping me busy, but I have not stopped painting. This painting here is a memory from when we hiked The Angel’s Landing Trail in Zion National Park in Utah. Some may find the hike strenuous, but it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the park. I guess the beauty of the Virgin River below cutting through the golden glow of Fremont Cottonwoods in autumn will force most motorists up the mountain. It gets “interesting” up at the top where you’ll need to climb the spine of this rock by pulling yourself up by chains, which are hopefully well attached to the rock. The views are well worth the “danger”. Happy New Year – cheers to more adventures in 2015.
Landscape Arch (above) is one of the more well-known (and longest) natural arches in Arches National Park in Southern Utah. Sometime in the 90’s people were camping underneath the arch, when a giant piece of the arch broke off and came crashing to the ground. Luckily, no one was hurt. There are many natural arches, “windows”, and natural bridges found throughout the park. Water and other natural forces continue to shape the landscape, as old arches break down and new ones are born. This painting is a reminder that everything is constantly changing, and that Landscape Arch will inevitably come to an end, but at least it will remain on this piece of paper.
This is a quick watercolor sketch of the Hudson highlands in the distance and a glimmer of Lake Skannatati; one of the many lakes in Harriman State Park. The park is an outdoor paradise for city dwellers as well as suburbanites who travel here on weekends. The trailhead parking lot was a sea of screaming adults, kids, and clicking cameras. Walk about a mile up the red trail or the “long path” and all the noise and calamity fades away. It seems that most people “experience nature” from the comfort of their cars. On a beautiful day like this, the only thing that could make it better is a nice cold beer after the long hike!
On a recent trip to the southwestern regions of the USA, my hunnie and I explored these regions through a familiar routine of: rent a car, drive to National Park(s), day hike, and stay at lodge. But, this time we spiced things up a bit by adding a pinch of camping and a dash of backpacking into the mix. While I am eager to share funny stories and rave about the geology and the trees of the American Southwest I feel more inclined to share a bit about the thoughts and feelings that came to me during time spent in the backcountry. This is the first order of business, as I am afraid I will suddenly become unenlightened tomorrow morning.
As we shouldered our heavy packs and began our decent into the Grand Canyon I couldn’t remember why I’d want to spend my days dragging around a giant backpack and my nights waking up to unfamiliar sounds, while pretending that my bladder isn’t begging to be relieved. Was it the obscenely beautiful scenery? Surely, one can attain that without enduring all the hardships by taking a day hike or even scenic drive? Why do we do it? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe it’s a combination of simplicity, physical challenge, self-reliance, the longing for a greater connection with the natural world, and a deeper appreciation for the things we tend to take for granted. In a way, backpacking is like being a track runner; it looks like punishment, but the high you get from it is well worth the discomfort. Here are some lessons I may have revisited on this brief sojourn into the backcountry:
Many Native American tales have a common theme, which is the importance of appreciation and thanksgiving. The Lenape people have a story about a great corn spirit, which took away all the corn from the Lenape people once they stopped giving thanks and began to take the gift of corn for granted. Life in the backcountry makes you appreciate modern conveniences like food in the fridge, flush toilets, and a nice warm heated home. Out there, it takes effort just to boil water to make tea, but it’s also the best bag of Lipton tea you’ll ever have. The backcountry makes Ramen Noodles taste like a gourmet meal and PB&J taste like Ben and Jerry’s. It’s the ultimate lesson in appreciation and thanksgiving.
Humility (well I tried)
Not all backcountry excursions allow for immersion in solitude, especially not the South Kaibab to Bright Angel route in the Grand Canyon. There were many different kinds of folks on the trail and at the campsites doing many different kinds of interesting things. For instance, there was a fellow that believed that hiking out of the canyon was a race to the top. I have no issue with making way for those who are stronger and quicker on trail, but this particular fellow lacked the physical ability to stay ahead, and as a result he kept falling behind, and then passing again with a sudden burst of desperate energy over and over again. Here was a lesson in humility. It took a lot of effort to avoid judgment and negative reactions, and I admit that I soon failed that attempt.
My favorite thing about backpacking is the element of simplicity that comes along with it. No need to pick out an outfit; It’s the same shirt every day. And, there are only three simple things on my mind: 1) what/when to eat, 2) Hey look at that pretty bird, and 3) Where to poop. This type of itinerary allows one to “live deliberately”, as Henry Thoreau once put it. I am not talking on the phone, while reading an email, while making hand signals, while picking my ear. There is no “multitasking” and I am focused on one of the three important things mentioned above. Unless of course, I am distracted by the pretty bird while eating or pooping.
When we reached the bottom of the Grand Canyon we were awestruck by the sight of the rushing mud colored water of the mighty Colorado River. I’ve always imagined the Colorado River to be an emerald green color, which it can be depending on the circumstances and time of year. A great feeling of peace washed over me and I tried to remember that other apathetic and unsettled state of mind we tend to fall into, where all relaxation techniques or the strongest of substances aren’t capable of bringing the kind of peace I felt standing near the river. A few days in the backcountry is the best physical and mental medicine that I know of. We resurfaced at the rim of the canyon a few days later, grinning from ear to ear, and we were downright giddy. These types of feelings don’t come along too often and I’d go as far as calling it “true happiness”. Now I remember why we lug around that giant backpack :)!
I joined this club and arranged to have a group hike, but we didn’t get there in time. It snowed in the Mountains of upstate New York, but it snowed in Central Jersey too. Continental breakfast at the motel was three rice crispy bars and Folgers coffee. It was colder than I expected. Shivering we layered up and threw our packs in the back of the jeep.
It was only a few hundred yards to the trailhead if you didn’t mind trespassing and hopping fences. We took the main road and further down the road it was closed off. My hunnie used her back-road navigation-phone-gadget-tech-devices to land us at the trailhead. The others had already gone up the mountain and now it was our turn to walk into the gray and white cold.
The snowshoes felt very odd. I quickly replaced them with micro-spikes and so did my hunnie. It was damn cold, but my body started to feel comfortable two miles up the trail and the golden eagle we just saw raised our spirits. I turned around to look back at the mountains. The silence was unsettling. My ears were ringing. I wonder if I could get used to the quiet if I stayed out here for a few days.
A while later we were down from the mountain it was time for beer. At the bar, everyone was wearing a hat. Even the large and in-charge lady bar tender was sporting a chauffeur hat. Was this a theme or were they trying to cover up bald spots? Doesn’t matter, beer was good and that made me happy. A pit-bull pup ran through the bar pouncing on empty peanut shells and I sat back and reveled in the memories the day had brought.