Because one can only eat so many tomatillos.

I’ve always been inspired by landscape.

Of course, most writers are.

For John Updike it was the industrial mid-Atlantic and, later, the buttoned-up coastal towns of New England. For Gary Snyder it was the Cascades and the High Sierra, for Faulkner the humid, dripping South.

As we all know, WBY had County Sligo, and James Joyce, of course, was inseparable – in prose if not geography – from his beloved Dublin.

Ed Abbey and many like him had the desert of Southern Utah, and for years, I did, too.

In college, in my cold bedroom on Buckhout Street, I stayed up all night reading about red rock country through the words of Abbey and Terry Tempest Williams. At that point, I’d seen the desert only once, on a winter trip to Indian Creek. Back home in the sad Pennsylvania spring, I felt Utah calling me back.

In the years since, I’ve moved west and traveled to the desert dozens of times. Until now, I’ve maintained that the desert is my soul’s home, that its filagree of sage and tamarack inspires and sustains me.

But they don't, and neither do the improbable sandstone towers or stoic buttresses. The place has lost its enigma; it’s come to mean too much – a venue climbing successes and failures, a place to feel clumsy and awkward, a stage for letting Brad down.

And that’s the problem.

Brad loves the desert more than anyone I’ve ever seen. Normally reserved and calculated, he goes a little bit crazy as soon as Moab’s in the rearview and we’re barreling toward the highway 211 turn-off.

As I sit in the passenger seat, growing increasingly intimidated by my surroundings, Brad opens the windows and howls and calls the dogs to the front of the van to do the same. If they spot a rabbit, Brad brakes so hard the vehicle fishtails on the gravel. They clamor outside to where they last saw poor thumper, and I sit there praying for that rabbit’s deliverance from Arnie’s teeth.

You must understand: none of them – Arnie, Brad or Red – would ever purposely inflict pain on another creature (sure, Red gets a little bossy sometimes, but he’s mostly bark). They just get excited when they’re in the middle of nowhere—sans leashes and rules and schedules and pretense.

The desert is Brad’s Grateful Dead tour, his frat party, his drum circle, his dance club. It is the one place I’ve ever seen him drop his guard, throw his head back and relax completely.

So I feel guilty for not feeling the same.

Oh, I’ll still go there, of course. And I’ll have a wonderful time. But when we met, we connected over our shared love of climbing on sandstone. Years later, I’m more interested in rolling waves and rolling hills than I am desert sunsets, so where does that leave us?

I crave change – new sights and people and activities and experiences. Doing the same thing over and over causes me to compare one experience to the previous, causes me to compare myself to who I used to be, and somehow I keep falling short of my own expectations.

What was I saying about letting Brad down in the desert? Yeah, that's probably projection.

I guess I just need to remember that my life really isn't all that hard. I'm so lucky, so blessed - why create drama and stamp my feet and throw fits when, christ, I'm in the desert with the man and dogs I love; who cares how I'm climbing? Why not just have fun?

But that's what I do - I make a big deal out of things that aren't. Part of it, of course, is guilt. My life is so easy, if I were to only worry about huge problems, I'd never worry at all...I'd be just like Arnie. Sure, that'd probably be healthier, and god knows it'd be easier for my family and friends (and blog readers, because oh my god, believe me, even I'm getting tired of this love-hate-but-mostly-hate-lately affair I have with climbing; I can't imagine how you feel when you open up TWR and see yet another climbing post), but I'm not sure it's possible.

I love moving water more than anything else in nature. Its constant state of flux is calming to me because I, too, change moment to moment. I'm soothed by surf reports - even hundreds of miles from the nearest break - because they remind me that nothing is static, everything is a little bit different than it just was, and that's ok - it's natural. Exhausted and empty, I'm often a different person at 5 pm than I was at 5 am, when I hopped out of bed feeling happy. Like rivers and oceans, my moods surge and drain throughout the day.

The desert is different. Steadfast and still, its change is visible - just look at the arches - but slow. It ebbs and flows over decades, not hours, and while not always safe, it at least warns you when a storm is coming, when the calm is about to be rocked. My storms are far more sudden and unpredictable.

My friend, Kate, has recently begun to experiment with raw eating, and it sounds like it's working very well for her. Part of me wonders if a change in diet wouldn't help me regulate my energy and mood levels, but I'm so stubborn that as soon as I establish a rule for myself, I go out of my way to break it, just to prove that I can.

Maybe a better diet would help, but I'm so tired by the time I leave work and drive home that all my healthy, wholesome plans for the evening get trumped by eating chips and salsa for dinner and watching reruns of 30 Rock online. Since when am I so damn lazy?

I need to figure this out, though, because where I once ran 6 miles in the morning and did yoga and hiked with Arnie for two hours after work, I'm lucky now if I get out for a short jog or dog walk. I suppose I'm comparing myself to myself of fitness past again, but the thing is, I don't know where this new slothy version of myself is coming from. I don't like it, though - it's affecting my marriage, my happiness, my dog (I'm not the only one who could use more exercise...)...Where is this coming from? How do I fix it?


Erin said...

Wish I had the answer. But I do have an idea you could try and it's way easier and more satisfying than eating raw---you could try my protein diet. Seriously, I never felt better emotionally and energy wise. It was the first time I ever had consistently high energy all day long. Email me if you're interested and wanna hear more. You only have to eat mostly protein for one week. And we can do anything for just one week, right? :-)

Jen Yu said...

Honestly, it sounds like you're a little depressed. I don't think diet is going to fix everything, because diet is only addressing the symptom, not the root of the problem. I guess if I were in your shoes I'd ask myself: 1) what makes me happy 2) what are my goals 3) where is the intersection of those two things and 4) how am i going to start reaching those?

What are those things that you truly love to do where you aren't trying to measure yourself to some metric? Are you ever happy with who you are just as you are? It just sounds like you have these expectations for yourself and when you fail to meet them or surpass them, you punish yourself for it. Sometimes it helps to just step back and appreciate you for who you are. Like yourself. I like you (and I definitely don't like just anybody!), Brad likes you, the pups like you. I'm pretty sure Kaweah loves you although she doesn't know it. If you can accept yourself and like who you are, it makes the rest of life so much better. As you and I know, life can throw some pretty bad curve balls, so why make it harder on yourself? Am I making sense or is this just more of my mindless drivel? ;) xxoo

Kate said...

You know I am the same way with food - if I decide I am not going to have it - I immediately want it. I should flesh out what I've been doing with the raw stuff a bit more. I AM eating more raw (generally breakfast is a green smoothie & lunch is a giant salad, snacks during the day are fresh fruit and veg) BUT I have not cut anything out of my diet.

I don't really eat a lot of processed food in general - but I haven't cut anything that I was already eating out completely - just including more good stuff (food and otherwise) than I was before. Raw fruits and veg, more time journalling, more time dancing, walking to work, talking with high energy, positive friends...and letting the energy sapping foods, people, and activities diminish a bit. Spring cleaning I guess?

For what it's worth w/ Erin's suggestion - I have eaten high protein sometimes when it was what my body was craving, but long term I ended up having a lot of kidney pain & ummm digestive sluggishness;) I don't think one way of eating is the BEST for every person or even for one person at every point in their life. I love the way Michael Pollan (Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food) expresses it: "Eat Food. But not too much. And mostly fruits and vegetables."

And since I have written a novel about it in your comments, I will take some time to write a bit on my own blog today too!

Kate said...

And one more thing occured to me later - along the lines of what Jen said...sometimes if you can find what makes you happy, everything else gradually sorts itself out. I tend to do like you do - look at changing my diet to make changes in other areas, but sometimes the reverse is what actually needs to happen. Good luck & I hope this made sense.