Transitioning

We took old interstate 90 out of San Antonio and headed westward. It was early in the day, but already sweltering in the 90s by the time we left the congestion of the city and the landscape became ever more spare, gnarled live oak trees giving way to mesquite and then replaced by something even scrubbier tucked between prickly pear cactus and golden prairie grasses.  We began seeing border patrol SUVs parked in the brush, the land curving down and out of sight, the Rio Grande low and invisible, but cutting its ribbon across the desert dividing nations regardless.

We came upon the enormous Amistad reservoir quite suddenly, startled by the turquoise water that seemed eerily out of place among all of the muted golds and browns and sage greens. I stared out of my open window as we drove past, curious as to why the lake felt so out of place aside from its desert surroundings before realizing that the lack of foliage at water's edge defied my idea of a desert oasis. No palms or lushness, simply an abrupt dive from dusty dry earth to clear turquoise water with no transition at all.

Later, we pulled off at a picnic area for a late lunch, surprised when the pull off continued further than expected and ended at the edge of a canyon wall looking down on the Pecos River. This was the old west spread out before our very eyes, the echos of inhospitable land, desperate livestock, skirmishes and lawlessness and a world unto itself, appropriated land and cultural annihilation, all of it flowing down out of its headwaters in the Sangre de Cristo mountains and running through the desert into the Rio Grande. We ate our lunch in awe and then crossed over the muddy, slow-moving water to “west of the Pecos,” continuing to our first chance at gas in over 100 miles in the sleepy town of Sanderson.

The sun was sinking low and the temperature beginning to back away from the triple digits as we entered Big Bend, the Chisos mountains turning ochre in the late light, shadows lengthening over the wide open land. As we drove, enormous jackrabbits and sweet desert cottontails played chicken with our truck tires (a true testament to Justin’s driving acuity that we hit not a single one…I’ve never seen animals so apparently suicidal in all my days) and even a lumbering javelina as it sauntered across the road in no particular hurry. Justin spotted one of Big Bend’s specialties, the Texas Brown Tarantula, but I admit to relief at missing a spider big enough to be clearly identified from a moving vehicle at dusk (harmless, I know, but still…). We gloried in the sunset, the fiery oranges and reds giving way to magenta and then that deep purple-blue just after the sun drops out of sight. We gloried also in the space and the mountains and the sheer exuberance of being alive in such a wild place.

There was sadness and regret in what we’d left behind, both in San Antonio that morning and further back in our cherished community and home in Maine. There was uncertainty and apprehension in the myriad unknowns that lay before us in Reno. But in this moment of transition, this space between before and after, we could simply be two travelers crossing desert and mountains in our journey, in our work at living our lives as fully and richly as possible. We could look out over cactus and cholla and sotol and take the moment as it came, unencumbered by our past or future, comforted by the steadfastness of long-lived mountains and the caprice of ever-changing desert. 

Arrived

We arrived in Reno last night after driving for hours with the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains hugging our left side. They are glorious things to behold, those mountains, and between that view and the sound of the Truckee River that I can hear from where I sit writing this morning, I have high hopes for our time tucked in here on the California-Nevada line.

We’ve been on the road for the last couple of weeks, wandering through wide open spaces devoid of much human noise. It’s been utterly lovely to have “No Service” show up on my phone when I reach for it automatically, a gentle reminder to put it down, to look out my window at that big sky, to engage in conversation or companionable silence without distraction. 

In several places along our drive, road signs admonished us to turn off our air conditioning lest we overheat and we realized just how long it had been since we’d rolled our windows down and thrown our arms out into the wind while sliding along two-lane highways at breakneck speeds. How many ways must I learn that insulated comfort is rarely the best path?

I shot hundreds of photos and I will share many of them here over the next few weeks. But I also put my camera down sometimes. There was a night in Big Bend when we’d gone out to photograph the stars in that dark sky where so little man-made light interferes, only to remember that we were mere days from the full-moon, it’s celestial light dimming the stars. So I packed up my camera and instead we stood still in the middle of the road, alone and silent. We looked out over a teeming desert landscape, glowing in the moonlight, and we listened. We heard no cars. Or trains. Or planes. We heard no sounds of man. But over the cicadas and nocturnal rustlings and mysterious tiny crunches, we heard the yipping of coyotes nearby and finally one long, lovely howl at that moon before the pack moved away. It was some time before we could stir from that magic and days before the awe of it faded. 

We are excited to investigate this new temporary home, to see what lies beyond the casino reputation, to cast for trout in this river and rest our cheeks against the ponderosa pines in these mountains. To redefine “home” once again and to do our work, the work of being here, the work of learning and growing and embracing transition and fleetingness.

Our Next Move

This is it, you guys. When next you hear from me, we’ll be en route.

En route to where, you may be asking…well, drum roll please…

We are heading to our next assignment…in...

RENO!

Yes, THAT Reno. 

Before you let the whomp, whomp surprise take hold, just look at a map. Look at all that glorious green space to the left. That’s Lake Tahoe plus a whole bunch of state park land as well. We will be just east of the Sierras, accessible to those big ol’ mountains with their big ol’ trees and that big ol’ lake. It’s gonna be awesome.

I’m not leaving Texas without a bit of heavy heart…three months is enough time to start springing tiny roots, especially when there has been plenty of access to family. I’ll miss the afternoons on my mom’s back patio, wine spritzers in hand and the way her dog, Cubby, and Tess lay near one another in the grass with their matching ears in the air. I’ll miss the impromptu picnic table time with my brother, and sitting next to him by the river as we tie fly to tippet and razz each other with silly leftovers from our childhood. I’ll miss the ease that has come with this extended togetherness, the kind that there’s simply not time for when you have only a week or two to visit. It’s been a true gift and I’m so grateful for the growth that has come with being here.

But this is what we signed up for when we let go of our old life. We made the implicit agreement to say goodbye just as we began to really settle in, to allow the cuttings of our life begin to root and then pull them up and begin again. To say farewell again and again and again, because as it turns out, that seems to be the only way to say hello again and again and again as well. 

We must depart so that we can arrive. That’s the deal we made when we chose this path. It’s uncomfortable in a lot of ways, some ways that I hadn’t planned on or prepared for. But it’s also so exciting, the undeniable sense of possibility and untapped experience bubbling up.

I’ve been realizing over these last months how ready I am to do my work. To do the work of honesty and hard looking at myself and how I walk through my world and my relationships. I’ve always done my best and tried to face my choices with courage, and this isn’t an exercise in self-flagellation. That serves no one. But it seems that each day I am able to loosen my grip just a tiny bit more on my old stories, the perspectives I hold onto because they absolve me of some kind of guilt or culpability, because they allow me to absolve others without the need to face my own hurt or confusion. It’s a powerful thing to let go, one clenched digit at a time, to the things we think we know, a powerful and terrifying and healing thing. It’s taken a good deal of my courage and I suspect it will require much more before I’m through, but I’m a bit surprised to find that there is some relief in that as well. I’m no longer interested in the get-out-of-jail-free cards I once sought. I read a little quote recently that said “Deal with it before it deals with you. Always.” And I want to. I want to deal with all of it. The raw and the not-so-nice-to-look-at. The terror and implicit vulnerability of truly loving others despite, and because of, our deeply flawed natures and theirs. It’s heavy, beautiful, terrible work and I’ve found myself in the midst of it. 

And so it is that we go from here. In the way of all transitions, anticipation walks alongside trepidation, excitement mingles with nervousness, eagerness holds hands with reluctance. It seems so fitting that we’ll begin our journey in the desert…isn’t that where all awakenings begin? Beneath wide sky and unyielding sun, in a place where only the hardiest can thrive. Before we make it to our clear, cold, deep lake in it’s mountain oasis home, we will cross the desert and leave some old bits of ourselves there, the toll required for passage.

We leave in four days. It’s time for our next move.

The General Route:

A: Leaving New Braunfels, TX

B: Big Bend National Park

C: Guadalupe Mountains National Park + Carlsbad Caverns National Park

D: White Sands National Monument

E: Saguaro National Park

F: Flagstaff + possible quick trip to Petrified Forest National Park

G: Grand Canyon National Park

H: Reno!

There are a few stops planned between parks (we can't NOT stop in Marfa, right?) and we have just over two weeks to travel, so I imagine that our itinerary will be flexible.

We are headed to cell-phone/internet no-man's land, so while I will do what I can, there may be a bit of radio silence along the way. I admit to being a bit excited for the unplugged time. So I ask that you bear with the silence and possible interruption to blogging and email response and know that I will be back with you as I can be!

Crunch Time

It’s overcast and drizzly this morning and I am taking a break from organizing my massive to-do list to pause. Justin’s last shift here in Texas is a week from tomorrow and we will drive away from this little temporary home a few days later. Our departure has come upon me suddenly despite our extra month here, and I seem to be in “crunch time” for all sorts of things I’ve meant to figure out and finish over these last weeks. We’ve had plenty of time, really, but here we are, once again scrambling and likely to leave a few loose ends untied.

Maybe this is simply how all things work. Perhaps this is the story of our lives, this putting off because we feel like there will be more time “later.” And when the end arrives, it always takes us by surprise, leaves us with unfinished business we’d intended to get to “one of these days.” I can live with that…to an extent. If we don’t finish sorting through a few items that got randomly tossed into the camper, or nail down our plans to add solar to our camper before next week, or even fail to figure out a route out of Texas before we begin driving, I’m not too worried. 

It’s the putting off of the big things: the dreams we are timidly waiting to begin, the damaged relationships we intend to repair when it’s not quite so complicated, the attention we’ll give to our spouse/child/pet/self-care “just as soon as ____ gets done” that worries me. The big endings that might catch me unaware. They hide around corners and jump out just when we get complacent, you know.

And isn’t this the whole point of why we’re doing this whole live-out-of-a-tiny-camper-and-move-every-three-months thing? Isn’t this putting off of the things that matter the precise habit we are attempting to break? Isn’t this one big ol’ attempt not to delay the dream we share of seeking place and experience and breathtaking beauty while we attend to the minutia of daily life, allowing it to eat our days, weeks, years…lives?

Isn’t life always in “crunch time”? 

I suspect so. The power there is that when we operate in that way, it becomes just a little easier to separate the important from the urgent, doesn’t it? When I only have a week to finish everything, the “it would be nice” items start getting chucked off the end of my to-do list unapologetically and I’m left with only what is most important to me. For me in this moment, it is gleaning every last minute of time with my Mom and brother here in this place they call home. I will let the solar panels and website updates and camper-sorting wait so that I don’t miss these last days with them in a flurry of to-dos that won’t really matter so much in the long run. The power of “crunch time” is that, if we choose to pause in our momentary panic, our “oh shit…how am I going to get it all done?” frenzy, it can be a place for real clarity. 

I’m grateful for that clarity right now. And for the flexibility that I’ve been learning over these last 9 months or so. We don’t know where our next assignment is yet, so we don’t know where exactly we’ll be pointing this little camper of ours in a week or so. But that’s okay. I’m learning that it will be just fine, crunch time and all.

Unknowable

I’m working on a personal project right now that has to do with my family’s history. It revolves around a family incident that happened when my mother was barely out of toddlerhood, a tragedy that changed the trajectory of, well, everything really. 

When I sat down and began writing, I had this image in my mind of who each of the players were. I began to sketch out these people I knew, my grandmother and my grandfather, people whose expressions and voices were so familiar to me. It didn’t take long, however, before I remembered what we all have some basic awareness of: that knowing someone and knowing someone are hardly the same thing.

I was struck by all that I don’t know, all that will forever remain a mystery now that they are gone. The grandmother that I knew was a woman in her 50s and 60s, long-since divorced, forty years after the incident I’m writing about. The grandmother that I’ve heard about through my own mother is someone else entirely. And the woman who married at 17, the one before her husband went off to be damaged in the way only war can damage a person, the one who had yet to lose her children…who was she? Where do I find her? Hidden in the shy smiles in old photographs? In the words of love scribbled on the backs of photos shipped off to her man in uniform gallantly serving overseas? And what of that man? Who was he before the war, before the guilt and the loss and the heartbreak? He’d already known hardship and trauma by the time they married, but isn’t there some kind of inherent hope in the mere act of matrimony? A belief that the two of you can build something new, something strong and fresh together? When did that hope die, exactly? Somewhere in the rubble he photographed in Hiroshima, or did it suffer its final death throes alongside his son?

We live our lives surrounded by our loved ones, parents and grandparents and siblings and sometimes aunts and uncles and cousins and lifelong friends. We spend decades saying goodnight to a beloved partner or our children and we can so easily forget that knowing their voices and precisely how their eyes scrunch up at the corners when they smile, or what their favorite song is or how they take their coffee is different from knowing them. Is it even possible to really know another human? Hell, it feels nearly impossible most days to be truly honest in my knowing of myself. So I suppose not. 

But isn’t that such a beautiful mystery? The slew of tiny memories and hidden corners and buried treasure hidden within each of us? To be able to spend a lifetime next to those we love and discover newness and uncharted depth within their hidden realms? We are all such messy swirls of dark and light, such untidy tapestries full of the pinprick holes made by the small hurtful words and little rejections, of the tears created when our hearts are ripped by pain, of the stitches where kind words landed at just the right moment or our love was reflected in another’s eyes or a forest showed us how to begin to mend ourselves. For every piece of ourselves that we share with the world, there are an infinite number that never see the light of day, that live within us weaving the complex beings that we are. 

To recognize our inability to know or be known is to recognize that each person holds within them a magical mystery, an infinity of possibility. This we have in common, this each of us shares. I do not know where your ragged edges might be frayed, or when my hasty words might add girth to what had been only a pinprick hole, so I will do my best to tread carefully and with compassion. I will do my best to truly see you and treat you as the wondrous enigma, the boundless promise, the unknowable and undoubtedly flawed human that you are, that we all are.

Some small bits can be gleaned from faded sepia photographs and handwritten scrawl. Some bits can be inferred from empathy and attention to what is said between the words. But I will never know who my grandmother was, not the 17 year old and not the 63 year old whose voice I can still hear clearly after all these years without her. I will never know my mother or my sweet husband or my dearest friends. Their innermost selves will remain always out of reach, sparkling starry skies full of infinite galaxies, always a mystery, always a wonder.

cindy_giovagnoli_mount_rainier_national_park_night_photography

Lately...

...we've been soaking in this springtime sunshine and forcing time to slow down to our pace...