Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Drifting grace

I wrote some time ago that you can never judge how a person’s life is, who a person is, by the trappings that surround her. A lovely waterfront home means nothing. A long marriage that appears happy and compatible signifies nothing. Gifts of expensive anything are a weak substitute of things for meaningful time with and attention from someone.

Many years ago I worked with a woman who said everyone has a story. As time went by and more life happened to me, I saw with crystal clarity the truth of it. There is no veneer that can accurately predict the glory or the ashes of the book of someone’s life.

I met a woman here the other day, a sister hiker, and we hit it off immediately. How does that happen? How does it happen that sometimes there’s an immediate connection with a stranger, before any conversation much more than hello takes place? I don’t know if there’s a scientific answer but I attribute it to grace - a sifting of grace dust that drifts on life’s current to the two of you just at the moment of meeting. I can count on one hand the number of times it’s happened to me and the rarity and pleasure of it makes me wish for it and value it all the more.

We met just as I was leaving a trail and she was beginning one and we talked for half an hour. I invited her for dinner the next night, she and I met for dinner last night, and we are hiking the Widforss Trail, a 10-miler, on Friday. Over these couple of meetings we’ve been telling our stories to each other and retelling the stories of women we admire as well. There’s a commonality, a pattern, a silver streak of strength that threads itself from one woman to the next. We leave failures, disappointments, loss, betrayal, or abdicated dreams behind us and soldier on, knowing that what we have now, the lives we are making for ourselves now, is what is important. The past is called the past for a reason. They’re gone and over with, those memories touched with anger or wistfulness, bitterness or bittersweetness – they’re behind us, but that doesn’t mean they never happened.

My friend went through a painful divorce 35 or so years ago, has long been happily remarried, and told me she still has dreams of her ex-husband. Oh my. I still have dreams of mine, not often and not ever pleasant, and wondered if they would ever stop. Now that I’ve heard her say she still has them I can let go of the anxiety I have about mine. As she said, she had a life before the one she’s living now, and there’s nothing she can do to make it disappear. It’s obvious, isn’t it, yet I thought I was such a special case that it made it different for me. Of course I’m not special and now, recognizing that I’m not the only one who is sometimes subliminally haunted, I feel lighter and freer. It reminds me of a Patti Scialfa song, Romeo, where she reminisces about someone from her past: “You’re a part of me forever, like a troublesome tattoo.” That’s exactly it. I can never get rid of that past life; all I can do is cover it up, not feel the need to pick it apart for all of its flaws, nor fret about the bad choice I made when I got it.

Thought of the day:

Taken in Metropolis, IL while visiting my sister last fall, just to show I don't take myself too seriously.

One day she remembered that the only person that could make her happy was herself. So she took back her power, reclaimed her place in the world, and shined like never before. 

– Anna Taylor, with thanks to another woman I greatly admire who has her own success story, for sending it to me, and who also told me that some of the people I would meet in my new life would give me valuable help. How right she was, and always is.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Gravity works

So far I've been walking easy trails here at the north rim but have been eying the start of the North Kaibab trail with the hope of getting a permit to camp at the Cottonwood Campground down in the canyon. It's not all the way down, but it would be an accomplishment and I'd be happy with that. Until Sunday I hadn't gotten around to doing anything more toward that goal than walking over to the trailhead, peering down the trail, and becoming slightly alarmed watching people emerging from the depths, heaving for breath, red-faced, and sweaty. Yikes. 

On Saturday my HH and I met the husband of our next door neighbor. HH had already learned that she is a retired librarian/archivist and is working in the book store for the season. Her husband is also an archivist and he comes up from Phoenix on the weekend. They're both outdoorsy types and he told us he'd hiked the North Kaibab part way to the Supai Tunnel the day before, turning around before getting there because he wasn't sure how much farther it was. When I said it was on my list, we agreed to give it a go on Sunday. The trail guide says it's 3.8 miles round trip and how hard could that be?

There is no such thing as level on this trail. On the way down, your every step is downhill, and I think you can see where I'm going.There ain't nothin' level going back up either.

Coconino Overlook is a stop on the way to Supai Tunnel, .7 miles from the trailhead. Great! That means it's only a little over a mile more to the tunnel. I was leading the way because my hiking partner wanted me to set the pace, and I was taking my time. I think it took about an hour from the top to the tunnel. There are a lot of rocks, loose sand, loose sand over rocks, tree roots, and mule poop to be careful around and I just went slowly.

Those are my hiking poles leaning against the rock and am I glad I took them. They make a big difference with stability in both directions.

There's not a lot to see on this part of the trail. It leads to a kind of slot canyon so there aren't wide, expansive views but what is here is predictably gorgeous.

Look closely at the bottom, almost center, of this next photo.There's a faint light bridge spanning the canyon. That's part of the trail and one I'd cross if I ever have enough nerve to hike to the campground.

We finally made it to the tunnel, which was blasted open by the CCC in the 1930s. Just to prove I made it that far I asked to have my picture taken; it's better that I had it taken then because later I wasn't in a peppy mood.

We went just beyond the tunnel to sit for a bit, take in the view, have something to eat, and get fortified for the trip back up. Even though I'd just come down that trail, I still didn't quite get how bad it is going in the other direction.

I meant to count the switchbacks going back up but after the third I was really too busy breathing and lost track. Here is a view going uphill, the trail on the left. It looks easy, doesn't it? It's a liar.

Having to have some excuse to stop other than saying if I don't stop I'll die (although in my defense, the elevation is around 8500 feet), I tried photographing wildflowers along the way. It wasn't overly successful because I was constantly sucking in air and my hands weren't particularly steady, but I managed to get a couple keepers.

After my saying about a thousand times that there's no prize for a quick exit, it took us an hour and three-quarters to hike back to the trailhead. I've considered myself in good shape but apparently have been sadly misinformed; I've never walked slower in my life, I've never had to stop as often or as long to catch my breath, and I've never in my life felt I was holding someone back, but there's a first time for everything. So I have a new goal. I'm going to hike to Coconino Overlook twice a week and work on fewer stops coming back up. When I'm better at it I'll think again about going down to the campground, and won't think twice about hiring a mule to carry my gear in and out. There's no prize for being a martyr, either. 

Thought of the day:

Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. - Newt Gingrich

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Livin' the dream

When I thought about coming to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to work for the summer, I asked about the internet. If you've followed me for a while, you may be familiar with my internet tribulations at Petrified Forest last summer when I used Sprint. I had to sit outside the post office to get online but my constant whining and complaining led the president of the Petrified Forest Museum Association, the friends' group, to put in a booster that eventually let me surf from the comfort of my own home. Then I switched to Verizon and had a decent signal without wifi.

I'm now at the Grand Canyon and can't get anything more than a weak trickle of internet even from our mobile hotspot with an antenna on the roof. I'm on roaming anywhere I go, but fortunately was given a password to the wifi at the Admin building, where I am right now. My HH and I hope to rectify this inconvenience with satellite internet, which is supposed to be installed this Friday. I have all fingers and toes crossed because my name is Kathy and I am an internet junkie. I need my fix on a frequent basis.

We got here Tuesday and I started work Wednesday. My schedule isn't as flexible as it was at Petrified but it's still 32 hours a week with three days in a row off. At Petrified our parking spot gave us an expansive view to the northeast and I had a walking commute of less than five minutes. Here we're parked in the forest with an expansive view of it out our rear and kitchen windows. Our spot is about midway between the Grand Canyon Lodge and the administration complex where I work, maybe 15 to 20 minutes' walking each way. The Lodge sits on the rim of the canyon and gives access to spectacular views.

There are two overlook points below the Lodge; this is looking up from one of them. The bow window is a big open room with leather seating, and the framed view of the canyon through the windows is, of course, spectacular. There are two outdoor terraces, one on each side of the room, where people congregate to watch the changing light and color below.

We went to the Lodge for breakfast our first morning here. It was packed but almost immediately cleared out (after we were seated not at a window) when the buses pulled out. This is from another morning, early, when I went out before work and before most people were up and about.

The views from the trails that rim the canyon - well, what can I say? I'm out of superlatives and adjectives that can't, even so, begin to put into words just how grand, inspiring, humbling, and spiritual this place is.

The elevation here is about 8500 feet, so everything is blooming a little later than down below. I think it's great because that means I got here in time to see the full spectrum. I'm going to need a wildflower identification book.

Lupines are just starting; there are wide areas of them throughout the area I walk every day that will soon be blanketed in blue. This is their leaf cluster.

Tiny, tiny magenta flowers, not much more than a quarter inch across.

New growth at branch tips, bright green and vibrant against the dark of old growth.

Here is the building I work in, at least for now. Yesterday I had the doors wide open and two hummingbirds zipped in and out. A chipmunk wandered in, looked around, and left. When I was sitting on the porch at the admin building before work another hummingbird hovered about three feet in front of me, looking me over. I've seen two western tanagers, birds I've never seen before, and the world's cutest squirrel, the Kaibab squirrel, which has tufted ears, a bright white tail, and a dark body. People who want to spot one are told to look for a white handkerchief fluttering through the treetops. I haven't been quick enough to get photos of the tanagers or squirrels - yet.

I expect to be here until some time in September. There are miles of trails to hike, campsites to overnight at, a brilliant night sky to gaze at, and lots more people to meet. What a life.

Thought of the day:

The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams. - Oprah Winfrey

Saturday, May 24, 2014


It's a little late, but here are photos from a Cinco de Mayo celebration that took place on the plaza near the Visitor Center at the park on, well, May 5. [added May 25: I forgot to say the name of the group is Las Joyas del Desierto - Jewels of the Desert. Nice, isn't it?]

The youngest group went first and if I've ever seen anything cuter than these kids I don't know what it could be. All the girls wore their hair in a bun at the top of the head and two braids threaded with bright ribbon.

This was a second dance with the same group. It had something to do with taking turns waving their feet over the blue vase between them.

A more experienced group came in for the next few dances.

Waiting in the wings for their next performance, they couldn't resist swirling those gorgeous costumes.

The boys' moves were mostly clapping their hands under alternating legs. No twirly anything for them.

This child played to my camera like a pro. I had a couple of photos of her looking straight at me or from the corners of her eyes, but they weren't sharp enough to keep.

The teacher is in the background, in the red shirt. She announced the kids were invited to be in a parade at Disneyland and they were raising money for the trip. My HH chipped in and a couple of days later had his hair cut by this same lady. She said they'd nearly met their goal. Parents were responsible for getting their kids there and the fundraising was for park admission.

I took some videos which turned out pretty well, considering I'd never done it before, and tried uploading one here. I got the video but no audio; there's a way to do it but I haven't figured it out yet. It's really something to see them in motion. I'll keep trying.

Thought of the day:

Friday, May 16, 2014

A necessity of the human spirit

I was supposed to be away for a few days.  My HH's grandson is receiving his Ph.D. In chemistry from Berkeley and I was going with my HH to help him celebrate but I'm sick and called off my flight. Thankfully, Southwest Airlines lets you change/cancel without charge - what a concept! - unlike American, where I also had to cancel a trip but got charged $200 to do it. Thieves.

My entire understanding of Patrick's dissertation is that it is about water. That's it. Sometimes I feel pretty smart but then something like a dissertation about water comes along and I realize my knowledge about anything is just a drop in the bucket. Forgive me; I couldn't resist. 

I'm tossing some Grand Canyon pics up for your perusal. I narrowed the landscape shots down to 41 but am not going to test your patience with anywhere near that number. I hope you enjoy.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. - John Muir

Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better. - Albert Einstein

Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive. - anon.

Whatever's good for your soul - DO THAT! - anon.

Always take the scenic route. - my sister Margaret always took the scenic route, whether she planned to or not

Stay curious. - anon.

Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures. Kill nothing but time. - anon

We all live downstream. - David Suzuki, geneticist

Nature does not hurry you, yet everything is accomplished. - Lao Tzu

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple, or more direct than does nature, because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous. - da Vinci

We need the tonic of wilderness. - Thoreau

Come forth into the light of things. Let nature be your teacher. - Wordsworth

Do not feel lonely. The entire universe is inside you. - Rumi

I love places that make you realize how tiny you and your problems are. - anon.

A world without open country would be universal jail. - Edward Abbey

We do not see things as they are, we see things as WE are. - Anäis Nin

This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. - Edward Abbey

The earth does not belong to man. Man belongs to the earth. - anon.

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit. - Edward Abbey

"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily. "And freezing." "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."

The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders. - Edward Abbey

Keep close to Nature's heart. - Muir

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once again. - John Burroughs

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority. - E.B. White

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. - Joseph Campbell

Our job is to record, each in his own way, this world of light and shadow and time that will never come again exactly as it is today. - Edward Abbey

In wildness lies the hope of the world. - Muir

When it comes time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived. - Thoreau

When we tug on a single thing in nature we find it attached to everything else. - Muir

In every walk with nature, one receives far more than [s]he seeks. - Muir

I didn't feel well enough to sit at the computer and vet the quotes and so will gratefully accept corrections.

Thought of the day:
Come into the mountains, dear friend.
Leave society and take no one with you 
 but your true self,
Get close to nature.
Your everyday games will be insignificant.
Notice the clouds spontaneously form
 and try to do that with your life. - unknown