I stand at the edge of the vast canyon laid out before me. The various colors of red, orange, greens and browns all delight my senses as I stand quiet, feeling the chill of the early morning breezes.
The ancient sandstone pillars stand silently atop the massive plateau dotted with grey sagebrush. On the thermals soars a raven, circling ever higher in a balancing act of wind and wing.
I stare deep into the deep grandeur of the canyons below and imagine the strength of the river and wind… what marvelous architects.
Again I feel the warmth of the sun and I’m brought back.
The mountains stand steadfast in the distance. Dark purple and grey, climbing high above the desert floor in a majesty all their own.
The songs of the past whisper on the wind, telling stories of hardship and a love of the land… a spiritual connection to the vast night sky full of starts and the brilliant blue of the day. The blazing sun and the parched land yielding only enough to eek out a living. I can hear the cries of the warrior, the yelp of the coyote, the singing of the canyon wren, the rustle of the dry yellow leaves of the mesquite.
My heart sighs, my mind settles and my eyes take in all it sees with gratitude for this new day.
We pulled in late last night, as is our norm with the short days. Since we crossed the time line in Nevada, and lost an hour with DLST, sunset at 4:30, dark is around 5:15-5:30. Of course, fire restrictions are on high alert, so we pretty much retreat to our van after gazing at the sun fire red clouds and the darkening skies of sunset. On our new schedule, that means we have about 4-5 hours to play/drive, before it’s dark.
We come upon the park at about 4 pm. The parking lot that the NFS calls a “campground” (Sunset) reminded me of parking at a drive-in movie. It was all that was available. No fires, dogs on leash, just our kind of place. Not.
The morning comes super early as well and by 6 am it’s full on light outside. By 7 am the big RVs in the “campground” have turned on their generators. The van is pretty well insulated from sound so it’s just a dull roar. We decided to set out early and explore the other campground above us. We drove through last night and checked it out, but it fills everyday by around 2-3:00 pm.
After some Coffee and a quick breakfast we grab our e-bikes and are off to seek out our new home base. The host told us to go up around 11 am to secure a site, so we grabbed our chairs and a backpack and headed up to the campground to find a spot. After riding around for 20-30 minutes, we found a few empty spots, got together and picked one. #71 Home base.
It ended up being a lazy day. Chris was still recovering from some gastric issues (day 3) so our bike ride was about 3 miles too many. We are desperately in need of showers…going on day 4 tomorrow. We rode around to find the “showers” that showed on the maps but they never materialized. I’m guessing tomorrow will be bath day…
Ya know what sucks about National Parks is that they are so “structured”… ok, strict?… in the year of COVID or *rona, that’s people on people. Everybody and their uncle is out in the parks, wilderness, trails and so forth. We all practice social distancing and depending on the state/county, some will wear masks. We are incredibly paranoid about getting this. Maybe we won’t die but what if we have a month in the hospital? That could literally bankrupt so many families and ding us pretty good.
Social distancing in DEATH Valley… I think I read somewhere that like 1.7 million people come to Death Valley every year… Hmmm that means that from late October to early March, which are tolerable temperatures, over 635,000 a month, 21,000 people a day, entering the park in those 4.5 months, from all over the US, the hotspot of the pandemic.
Now to say this doesn’t weigh heavy on our minds everyday we have to use a gas station, toilet, go grocery shopping? Sometimes I find myself in a pure panic and can just envision the germs invading my nostrils. LOL. Then I’m reminded that we are all dying anyway… so live your life as safe as you can but not in fear. Not buying into any herd mentality mind you. More like impermanence.
Day two. Lazy morning. Coffee outside in the sun. Slight breeze blowing and the sound of new campers driving around looking for a camp spot. The low murmur of people talking to one another. Our van has been quite a hit and we continue to get compliments. It’s a conversation starter for sure. Gandaulf has also touched so many hearts. Kids and adults alike. It’s really hard to draw boundaries when people are kind and interested. I really don’t want to be afraid of people but I am.
The parched landscape of Death Valley whispers solitude and isolation. The multi-colored rocks, sand and salt bring to life thousands of years of history. Scattered along the landscape are brilliant green oasis where the brutal force of tech tonic plates grinding together forcing super heated waters to seep to the surface. From this violent beginning comes life in all its magnificence. In the middle of the hottest, driest place on earth, life in its simplest form can survive.
The color pallet laid out before me in the rocky landscape is soothing to the eye. The earth tone browns, yellows, reds, greens, a whole miriad of colors, blending together. Countless eons of time, layer upon layer, thrust up into the air by forces I can’t even begin to know, but my mind imagines the violent beginnings. Now all that remains are majestic, multicolored mountains, outlined in cobalt blue and wisps of white.
After a day of exploring the depths of the once inland sea -301’ below sea level, we wandered over to the Devils Golf Course. It looks like a frozen river at thaw… huge chunks of salt crack and move. We stood quietly and listened to the metallic ting as the salt moved in the heat. The beauty and starkness boggled my mind and my child just wanted to explore… so we did. Chris one way and I the other.
We drove around and did a few hikes and took lots of pictures. We had lunch on the side of the road and chilled taking in the view. We drove back to the camp site with our jaws dropping view after view.
The sun sets so early these days. I am grateful that it is so warm outside when it is “pitch black”. The campground looks like a small encampment of like minded people. Fires blazing against the inky blackness. People laugh and there’s music drifting on the warm air. The sky peppered with millions of pin pricks of light. The stars are thick and the milky way shows itself against the absolute darkness. I stare off for untold minutes loosing myself in the vast starlit sky. I am one with the universe. My mind mingles with the infinite wisdom and light… I feel minuscule but incredibly voluminous. I return to our little village, as Gandaulf tugs on his leash trying to relieve himself.
4,000 feet Day 4:
We decided to pull up stakes and head up into the foothills in the Death Valley Wilderness area. The breeze is blowing and it’s 15 degrees cooler. There is an abundance of life and even a solitary big old cottonwood in showy yellow. I just want to hug that big ole cottonwood and listen to its stories. At the mouth of a wash dug deep into the desert floor and that tree. The image is burned into my mind in all its ancient glory.
Our camp is quiet, except for the occasional vehicle going up the narrow canyon. The road said 25’ maximum length… I didn’t see it until I was already committed so I crossed my fingers and carried on. It was one of those scary windy 1 1/2 lanes wide. The turns were tight and 40’ meant hogging all of it through the turns. We arrived at Wild Rose Camp and picked a spot over looking the canyon and trees.
We settled in and set up camp. We kinda messed up and went to a camp with not much to do around it. We made the best of it and explored further up the canyon, minus the trailer. The hills up above the valley floor look like they are covered in velvet. The rolling folds accented by the late afternoon sun were a sight to behold. The fact that anything can eek out a living in this bone dry place is amazing in itself. Quite the contrary, this place is teaming with life from wispy grass like plants, sages, to several varieties of hardy trees. Nature has found a balance of life and death in this DEATH Valley.
In the wilderness, it’s being the only two humans around. Nothing but the sound of your heart beat in the silence. Your breath. Then the wind far off as it rushes through the willows and the trees that line the river in a wave until it reaches me. The green turns to silver as it brushes over the tops of the willows and grasses. The smooth surface of the water becomes disturbed and shivers as the wind touches it. A fish jumps. A shrill chirp of a bird. The sound of the air cut by the wing of a passing bird. The sound of the hollow rattle of the wood pecker. To be able hear your thoughts and watch them pass as they find no ground in your quiet still mind. Chris stands still out among the elusive trout in the river. Her line shimmers in the early morning sun light. Gandaulf sits…barely tall enough to be seen waiting for her to catch a fish.
To be alone is not to be lonely but to become one with all that lives and breathes around you without having to say a word. You, inside your own self yet cognitively aware of all that’s around you. To be separate from the thoughts of others…not influenced, you, yourself. Lack of stress. Living in the moment. Allowing a silent tear when you think of the others you love and how they suffer. Alone with the vibration of all that’s around you.
Alone at 9400 ft. Amazing, peaceful, alarming, silent yet very loud, small, powerful, beauty beyond words only felt. Clear air, clean water, bright sunshine, starry skies, incredible moon! Timeless, unstructured, fun, meditative, no cell phone, internet, Pandora, XM, only the song that rattles around in your head all day – the mantra. FULL! JA
In a dream, the most intense dream I’ve had in some time, I saw Happiness and Serenity waiting at the crossroads. I walked up and questioned each.
I first questioned Happiness. How can one experience all you have to offer?
Happiness smiled and replied… First one must relinquish their clinging to the past… second one must surrender their negativity… third, one must listen to the joy that exists within, that which no one can take from you.
I pondered the advice and turned to Serenity and asked the same. How can one find serenity?
Serenity replied in a soft assuring voice… one must learn to let go of that which doesn’t serve them… to become vulnerable… one must sit with oneself and dig deep to find forgiveness.
Again, I pondered the words spoken.
I sat at the crossroad… quietly contemplating the meaning of each response to my longing for both.
Tears of anger became tears of forgiveness
Thoughts of self-destruction… became thoughts of peace and love
Feelings of helplessness and deep sadness, became feelings of joy and faith.
My mind reeled
My heart wept silently as it slowly melted
I retreated deeply
I spoke gently to the tribe
As much as I am grateful to each of you
Each of you allowed me to survive
Each of you have your place
Each of you is loved
Each of you has lived through unspeakable horrors
I am not giving up on you, I am grateful for each of you… but it is time for us all to heal
Life is too short and too precious
Today I must make a choice for all of us
Today I must begin to give up behavior that is not conducive to our health… to turn away from that which has become comfortable and take a chance
Today I must dig deep and allow myself, all of us, to become vulnerable and become brave.
To forgive those which I despise with conviction
To live in the warm glow of love and compassion
To shed the tears of cleansing.
Today I stand at the crossroad of life… my life. A choice needs to be made.
Once upon a time. In a far away land. A land of magic and whimsy. Where dragons fly threw the sky. Animals of the forest, rivers and seas all had voices and stories
One day Otter came upon a small human child. What was a human child doing in the forest she thought. Otter took the child and ran off to the wise old owl. The owl told Otter that she had the motherly instinct and human children need to play and she should take the child as her own.
One day an evil witch came to the forest and saw the child. A rage came over the witch and she took the child from Otter and began to consume her piece by piece. The animals of the forest, rivers and sea saw what was happening and summoned up all their mental powers and caused the witch to turn to stone. The final words the witch uttered was a curse that would haunt the child for the rest of her life.
None of the animals could come up with a solution and the child was plagued with dreams and hallucinations that would throw her into fits. Finally one day she broke into a hundred pieces and scattered on the ground. The animals were unable to save her and they all mourned the loss of this sweet young innocent child.
A hawk flying overhead saw the pieces and heard the sad thoughts and flew off to the vast desert where he found the elephant. The wise old elephant heard the story and contemplated his answer carefully. What seemed like an eternity passed then elephant spoke up and said one word LOVE.
You must all get together and work together with each of your powers and surround this child with all your love. There is strength and great power in love but you must believe with all your heart you can do this. One of you will have to give the ultimate sacrifice of your own life for this child needs a heart. The witch stole her heart and left her filled with echos and torments…horrors no child should endure.
The hawk flew back to the tribe and told them what the elephant had seen in his vision and how they could bring the child back and break the spell. But one of you must give your life to show your love and give your heart to this child. Her heart was stolen by the witch and she will remain tormented without a new loving heart.
Otter stepped up without thought, compelled by her deep love for this child. I have felt the deep sorrow of this child, I have comforted her fears at night and sat with her when she was not well. My heart is already with her. At that point Otter plunged a knife deep into her chest and took out her heart and blessed the child and died.
All the animals of the forest, rivers and seas saw the compassion of the Otter, all put the pieces of the child and the heart of the Otter and formed a tight circle and began to hum.
A whirlwind picked up the pieces and carried them into the sky. The animals continued their vigilance and continued to pour out all the compassion and love they held.
Days later a sleeping child appeared back in the forest as the animals slept. She walked to each and entered their dreams. She told each of them that it was the love and compassion that freed her from this spell. She owed them each her life. The noise and echos, the horrors and nightmares had vanished. In her beat the heart of the Otter and she would learn to nurture herself as Otter did. This would be her promise for the life given.
I recently realized I was in a bout with anger and depression. This is something I deal with on a daily basis and accept that it is part of who I am. In my years I’ve always sought out alternatives to antidepressants through meditation and writing. Years later, nothing has changed. OK well lots has changed. I am a grown up with too many responsibilities and way too much stress. I am caught up in the whirlwind of the life I’ve chosen. The thing that has slipped away, correction…what I thought had slipped away, was my peace and serenity. The tools I need to stay balanced. Today the teacher told us that “all we seek is already within us.” It just takes desire and practice to find it again.
Back up three weeks…
When my depression and anger became too much for those around me to handle, so much a part of my daily life that I didn’t even see it, it became a serious issue and I was “called on the carpet.” No one ever wants to admit they have a problem. No one wants to burden anyone with our issues. I did… and I was… and I don’t. I chose to turn back inward. I first sought out a “getaway”, somewhere I could go and get away from my stresses. Escape. Guess what? Where ever you go… there you are. There’s no running away. I knew that I really needed to dig down deep. To pull out the coping toolbox. Unfortunately I found it quite empty. Somewhere along the last 30 years or so I neglected it and have slowly lost the tools. Good thing though, I knew what used to be in there. I know what made me feel better, what simple principles applied to daily life kept me sane all these years. Physical tools need to be kept clean and well oiled. Spiritual tools need to be practiced, looked after and used often. Other tools include my Native American flute and music. When one finds anger a ruling force in their life, music soothes. When I studied with a shaman, back in 1987, he made me sit in silence with myself until I learned how to calm down, relax and connect with the pure primal-ness of my very being. I learned native songs and chants. I learned how to listen to myself and express what I heard with my flute. I learned to sit in silence and take a tour inside of my soul. The essence of my being. So knowing what “used to be there” I began to seek out that spiritual connection again. This time I found it in Tibetan meditation and mantra. I am still drawn to native flutes and drums. I found Urgyen Samten Ling Meditation in Salt Lake City, not too far from where I live.
It’s not sweat lodges and drums, but the meditation and teachings are very similar. Today I attended my first Puja. It was centered around love and compassion for oneself and others. I listened intently and cried often. After the Puja I was singled out and blessed by the resident Lama/Rinpoche. What an honor since he spoke to my heart during his session. So I am here to tell you that I don’t know the first thing about practicing Buddhism or the Buddha dharma. It is a path I am drawn to though. Step one is letting go and listening,keeping an open mind and heart and letting it all flow.