Over Night

Last week we ran away for a night. It was just one night, stolen between workdays and responsibilities and to-do lists. We drove down an old fire road between enormous trees and along a bubbling creek and we hung our hammock, drank from our cooler, built a little campfire, and slept in the back of our truck. It was easy, no major planning involved, just a little time in the car to reach a place with no people or cell phone reception. 

I occasionally catch myself thinking that unless I can "go big" I should just "go home," that small adventures don't "count."

Count for what? Who the hell do I think is keeping score? What a bunch of crap.

It all "counts."

Every moment that we step away from our routines to feed our souls counts. Every move we make to care for ourselves, be it a sleep in the forest, a long bubble bath, a well crafted meal, counts. These moments are how we stay strong and whole so that we can offer the best of ourselves to the world. This is how we fill the well from which we pull our creativity, our compassion, our courage, our kindness.

Sometimes we get the time and space and resources to "go big." But more often, if we always waited for the big adventures, the grand vacations, we'd be exhausted and puny when we got there, our souls emaciated and malnourished. What silliness to wait, to assume that there will be a better moment than the one in front of us to do some small magic for ourselves.

We stole a night beneath grand ponderosa pines and red firs and a million stars twinkling between their branches. It wasn't "hardcore" and it wasn't "big" and what feeds your soul might be something entirely different. But as we drove back down that old fire road the next morning, my step was lighter and my to-do list more manageable and my smile easier. Just like that, just over night. 

 

 

 

Ruled By Water

Lately, my days have been ruled by water. I wake after a night of dreaming of downstream “v”s and wave trains and the swirl of where main current meets eddy. My conversations revolve around flow levels and “gnarly holes” and the current impact of snow melt on every river near the Sierras. With every motion I make, I’m aware of my body, sore and aching from using muscles long atrophied from disuse, from moving rubber and people through rapids and around rocks after more than a decade of not doing so. 

I awake thinking of the river, of the day ahead, of what I can wear that will keep me warm in 40 degree water on a blustery day. I end the day exhausted and replete, joyfully windswept and shivering and eager for a hot shower and an enormous meal and an early bedtime. My world has suddenly become dominated by the tactile and physical, intimately connected to weather and movement and reliant on my sensory awareness and response.

It’s a recollection on so many levels. A recollection of what it is to be so very connected to my own physicality and also a recollection of a less insulated existence. I love inclement weather, I always have (I blame a childhood spent enthralled by the descriptions of English moors and Scottish heather and Irish rain and New England snow that dominated the books I was obsessed with), and I will always thoroughly enjoy sitting within the confines of cozy home/bookstore/cafe sipping something steamy from a mug and looking out upon the weather from my warm and dry shelter. But I’d forgotten how much I love this too, this being out in the middle of that weather, a part of it, of squinting rain out of my eyes as I keep the shivering at bay by pure exertion. Or the flip side, the beating sun in this high desert, the juxtaposition of scorching air and icy runoff that splashes up with each wave we punch through. All of it a recollection of a me who didn’t always spend so many days looking out upon the world from behind her computer, a recollection of a me who knew more precisely where her body and mind intersected in space, how her physical and intellectual could become entwined to cope with challenges. 

And there are challenges aplenty. This is hard. Much harder than I’d anticipated and for reasons I’d never considered. I expected it to be physically challenging…it’s not exactly rocket science to imagine that I would get quite a workout guiding rafts after all this time and that there would be some soreness and exhaustion. But I underestimated how many fears I would be facing down daily, how many perceptions about myself I’d have to look more closely at and take responsibility for. It was easy to talk about my “glory days” as a river guide in the past, to hold that identity as part of the narrative about how I became my current me. It was easy to remember that I’d once been really quite good at it, that I was a leader and had solid knowledge born of day-in-and-day-out experience and immersion. I knew water back then, deep and sure. But to come back after all this time so far away from it is to expose myself to the very real possibility that I not only might be “rusty” and out of shape, but also that I have changed so much in the intervening years that the water might not speak to me in any real way anymore. It was one thing to have walked away from that life all those years ago, another to realize that it might not have any place for me now. Or that the me and the life I’ve built over these last years might have no place for rivers. And what of my creative work? Where does that work fit into these days spent on the water? Can I fall exhausted into my bed each night and still find the energy and motivation to create? Must I choose between them? Who am I in this swirl of past and present, of exterior and interior life and work? 

The only answer I have is that I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know what the balance looks like or whether I’m doing the right things or making a mess. I don’t know if I’m being brave by confronting the barrage of fears and insecurities that show up each day or if the mean-girl voice in my head that keeps whispering that this is what a mid-life crisis looks like is right. I just don’t know. I don’t know if I can regain enough skill to become a good guide again in these three short months. I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to get out of this. I don’t know if neglecting my business for three months will be recoverable or if I’m setting myself up for failure and regret later. I actually just don’t know any of the answers.

But I am moving forward anyway. On trust, mostly. Trust that there is room and space in myself and my life for all of this. That there are cycles to all things, creativity and business and personal identity included, and that stepping back from my business just a bit to dedicate these months to water will actually allow greater clarity and focus when I return. That this version of me has very different lessons to learn from this time working on water than my twenty-something self did, but that they will be just as valuable. That the joyful thrumming I feel despite all the work and fear and difficulty is a sign that I am doing something right. Trust that I have enough courage inside of me to face whatever I find as I move through these choices and these changes and these fears. 

Luckily, lately my days have been ruled by water. And if there is a better daily reminder that trying to control everything or that working against natural flow is a fruitless endeavor, I don’t know what it is. I feel alive and in touch with every part of myself right now, which feels a bit strange and foreign, but also just absolutely lovely. I’m exhausted on pretty much every single level. But it’s a deeply satisfying exhaustion, a kind of bone-deep weariness that comes from reaching all the way into the depths, of working hard and honestly and past my perceived limitations. I am immersed once again in the rhythms of water and seasons, and such, can trust that my own rhythms and cycles also have purpose and intrinsic value.

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More images from our transition time between Texas and Nevada. If you ever find yourself in southern New Mexico, be sure to carve out time to see White Sands National Monument. It is simply magical.

Double Vision

After leaving Big Bend National Park, we took the scenic route following the emaciated Rio Grande and through Big Bend Ranch State Park along Texas Farm-to-Market road 170. It’s a gorgeous drive through mountains and desert and definitely a preferable route to Marfa from Big Bend if you can spare the extra 2 hours. About midway through the state park, the road makes a single, very steep climb with just enough switchbacks to keep you from hitting it with any speed. You guys, we seriously almost didn’t make it pulling the camper. The gas pedal was actually pressed to the floor, our truck was revved high, and our speed dropped down to just under 15mph and we had our fingers and toes all crossed that we could make it to the top. Another 20 yards and we likely wouldn’t have. But we did, indeed, make it and the view from the top was incredible. The valley below was golden with a green swath stretched along the river banks. It just had a true West Texas feel to it. We were giddy with relief as we dropped over the other side and made it to Marfa without incident. 

Or so we thought.

After checking into our adorable little RV park and wandering about the tiny-but-bizarrely-cool-and-artsy town, we headed out to take a few photos of the famous Prada Marfa art installation. On our way there we began to notice that our truck simply wouldn’t go above 60 mph despite the perfectly flat terrain. It had no power, no pickup, no oomph. We got our photos, enjoyed the stunning sunset and pronghorn antelope dotting the fields, and resolved to see what a town with a local population of approximately 1,500 people had for mechanics in the morning.

In the meantime, Justin called his family’s mechanic back in New Hampshire (who was instrumental in helping us acquire our truck) and he gave us a run-through of things to check out. When he heard where we were and what we were up to, he exclaimed that he was so excited at the “rocking chair memories” that we were making.

Rocking chair memories. What a perfect way to put it. 

With every step we’ve taken, from the crazy sale of our home to getting moved into the camper to each step along the way since we actually drove away from Maine, I’ve had a nagging sensation of double vision. I am in the moment itself, hiking the Lost Pine Trail or watching a sandstorm in the Death Valley, and I am engrossed in the experience of it. But I can also feel the echoes of these moments as memories later in life. The way the stories will become entwined with the story of us, of this life we share and build together. How we’ll learn a rhythm in how we tell them together over the years. It’s an odd feeling to be in the present and to also see yourself looking back on this moment later. To be able to see the rocking chair memory clearly in the very moment we are making it.

And isn’t that at the crux of this whole thing? Isn’t this why we left so much that we love behind? We never expected everything to go perfectly smoothly, or be easy, or even to always feel that we made the right decision in doing all of this. We knew that at some point we would likely find ourselves with car trouble in the middle of nowhere (okay, maybe not exactly that, but some version of it…), but also that that is where the real stories are. To someday say to the other, “Remember that time we were stuck in Marfa, Texas when it was 103 degrees and couldn’t find a mechanic?” 

We won’t have that precise story to tell…we did find a mechanic and he was fantastic (and his wife owns a flowershop/bakery called Buns-n-Roses which might just be the coolest name ever AND had the best damn turnovers I’ve had in a long time) and we were on our way to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Carlsbad Caverns the very next day. But. The double vision remains. There are other moments- intense mountain passes and desert sunrises and dark night skies filled with the sounds of coyotes and thunderheads over saguaros- and I can feel their “rocking chair-ness,” see the memory alongside the experience. And I’m sure for a bit that this was, indeed, the right decision…we were always in it for the double vision.

There are restrooms (fully plumbed) as well as a snack bar and gift shops nearly 800 feet below ground, which might just be the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen...

There are restrooms (fully plumbed) as well as a snack bar and gift shops nearly 800 feet below ground, which might just be the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen...

Miscellany

Life is so full and so very varied right now and I am finding myself struck constantly by insights and wonderings and scribbled down thoughts, trying to capture the fleeting ideas and feelings before they have a chance to shift and settle. A little sample of my current meanderings:

  • I started training with a rafting company this week. It’s been over a decade since I worked on whitewater full-time and I’m struck by how differently uncomfortable it is to re-learn something you were once good at, something that once came as almost second nature than it is to learn something as a true beginner. Also, how bizarrely memories that I didn’t even know were there can flicker by with such potency at a sensory experience…as I lifted a raft yesterday at the take-out, the exact combination of ankle-deep ice water, the motion of lifting, the smell of river water and cold rubber, and the the trickle down my neck as the raft dripped overhead all combined to nearly knock me off my feet as I was, for the briefest of moments, once again 22 years old on another river, a different me. And then it was gone again and I was here, heart filled with getting to know this slice of moving water, this me. It’s challenging and wonderful and I freaking love it.
  • A dear friend lost his dad mere weeks after a cancer diagnosis and I am struck anew with the thought that grief and loss are the real “adulting.” Learning to cook for yourself and do laundry are great, but it’s these kinds of things- losing a parent or watching helplessly as they decline, learning to be a friend and true support when someone you care about is in pain (without turning to cliche phrases that are trite and unhelpful…don’t you DARE ever tell someone that their tragedy happened "for a reason”), figuring out what things in life we can “get over” and what things we simply must learn to carry, that are the real work of adulthood. And this “adulting" is so much harder and more complex than sorting whites from colors, it’s raw and messy and deeply uncomfortable and there is no running from it. My heart hurts for my friend and his family and for all of us trying to figure out how to step into this part of adulthood with courage and compassion and honesty. This shit’s hard, y’all.
  • We cooked for a guest the other night and realized that it was the first time we’d cooked for company since moving into our camper. I also realized that I miss mixing bowls and multiple burners. We’ll figure this out.
  • The campground we’re staying in is having some plumbing issues that have resulted in a gigantic ditch being dug in our space. It sort of sucks and is going on longer than anticipated and has randomly required that I attempt to work while a backhoe operates inches from where i’m sitting. But as I woke this morning to workmen discussing plumbing RIGHT outside my window well before 7:00am, I also realized that I am slowly becoming more easy-going and more adaptable, which was something I’ve known for awhile that I could use some work on. This life in general has required that I be flexible in ways that were never necessary when I had real walls and my own internet connection, and I’ve always required a combination of routine and SILENCE to do my best work, which simply isn’t often possible now. And I’m adapting- I’m able to tune out noise and recover from disruption on a level unprecedented in my old life, and I’m better than ever before at letting go of one set of plans for my day when they become unrealistic under the actual circumstances and moving on to other tasks with less frustration. Making strides…go me.
  • We spent the day in the small mountain town of Truckee, CA the other day. It’s a delightful place, even when crowded with tourists, and you should definitely stop there for ice cream and a walk-around if ever you find yourself this way.
  • I saw a great horned owl and an osprey yesterday. I’ve come to be very interested in birds. We were gifted with the company of several western tanagers in our last stop before Reno and their bright yellow just filled me with cheer. Also, there’s an essay in Mary Oliver’s newest collection of essays, Upstream, that has colored my view of the great horned owl…read that book. No, don’t read it- savor every one of her perfect turns of phrases…good lord that woman is brilliant.
  • Speaking of books, I’m reading Hundreds and Thousands again and I am finding myself so bolstered by her struggles to create something meaningful. If an artist with Emily Carr’s vision and talent had to work that hard and could get that frustrated with what she perceived as her failures or shortcomings, then I just can’t feel so badly at the great effort it takes on my part to try to grow and say something worthwhile in my work. And I’m reminded again how much growth comes out of the “failure” and how important it is to step away from the temptation to compare myself and my work to others. If she had trouble back in the 1930s not comparing herself to art that required days on a train to view, then it’s no surprise that I struggle with it when I’m inundated with the vast talents I can view at my fingertips online. And there’s no use for it either way. As another genius Emily put it: “I will not compare myself to strangers on the internet.”
  • My favorite new (to me) blog to follow is Full Grown People. If you haven’t seen it, check it out and subscribe (and donate...the woman behind it does the work of curating these essay for free). The variety of voices and stories are so often poignant and funny and make me feel less alone in this search for meaningful living. Really good stuff and a much better way to spend time online than scrolling Facebook for yet ANOTHER million minutes. 
  • A bunch of other stuff I can’t remember right now but totally meant to share…it will come to me later...

A few more shots from our time in Big Bend…I haven’t spent as much time at my computer editing as planned, too much to explore and discover in this new home, but I’ll get there, I promise...

CindyGiovagnoli_BigBend_NationalPark_LonePineTrail_petroglyphs_HotSprings_sunset-001.jpg

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.