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?