Training Ground

I had big plans for today's post. It was all prettied up and scheduled in and ready to go, and I was all sorts of excited about it. But sometimes projects that we care about take longer than we anticipate, whether that's because the words we are looking for are struggling to come forward, or because the logistics are more complicated than we realized.

I'm a one-woman show over here and that means that I wear a whole bunch of sometimes rather odd hats. This week, one of those hats has been "web coder" which, as it turns out, I have no idea how to do! So there is learning involved, and frustration, and things take time...and more time...and maybe a bit more time after that.

And that is okay.

Really.

I want to serve you in my work and with what I share here. I want to connect in real ways to all the things we have in common, the things we all struggle with daily. I never wanted any of my online spaces to look like a "highlight reel" that hides the work and the discomfort and- dare I say it- the failures. Because failure and frustration are inevitable bedfellows of risk and reward. They just are. 

And, as it turns out, they also tend to be our most powerful teachers. It's easy to scribble into my journal all the ways that I vow to pause and find the spaces and the small beauties in my mundane daily life, the ways I will pause long enough to ask myself if what I'm getting worked up about is really worth the energy and anger. It's a whole OTHER thing to be staring down a deadline, jacked up on my ninth cup of coffee, trying to figure out WHAT THE HELL I just entered that made all the text shift from vertical to horizontal and I haven't even started on the actual writing yet...ahhhhh!!! 

These are the moments that teach us how to notice, how to find the tiny spaces to take a breath and find perspective. This is the training ground where we learn to put into actual, meaningful practice the noticing that comes easier when life feels peaceful. This is where what we learn in our yoga practices or on our meditation cushions or in our journaling comes to matter in our "real" lives. This is "noticing" at work on the ground.

So here I am, unable to deliver what I'd intended for you today. But I will get it to you, and the work done will be properly (if not perfectly) done. Look for an extra post from me later this week...it will be short and sweet, but will contain the details of my very first giveaway here! (How have I never had a fun giveaway before?!?!?)

Thank you all for being here, not just for the highlights and the "wins" but also for the imperfections and the "fails."  You guys are such a source of daily inspiration to me.

  

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Cliche

We were pushing for Zion, forced to cut some stops from the itinerary to accommodate the contracted start date in Tucson. As we neared Page, I realized that we would change roads a mere 7 miles from Horseshoe Bend. It was nearly twenty years ago I’d last looked over that ledge and Justin had never seen it. It seemed like a more than worthwhile detour and a great place to cook dinner, so we went left at the intersection instead of right and pulled into the full parking lot just as the sun began its descent towards the golden hour.

As we walked the trail down towards the famous bend in the mighty Colorado River, we were once again among the throngs, once again “traffic.” I thought of the camera in my hand, the tripod on my back, and I wondered if I should even bother. Horseshoe Bend is one of the most photographed locations in the country, usually shot from the exact location I was planning to shoot from. If you search the location on Instagram, it’s image after image of nearly the exact same photo. What could I possibly contribute? Would I just be adding to the noise? Was I just going to shoot another cliche image of a cliche landmark? 

Well, that sure is one way to look at it. 

Or…

(1) I find Horseshoe Bend (and the Grand Canyon and the jagged Tetons and the Oregon coast and Big Sur…and, and, and…) to be unbelievably beautiful and moving places- places that I deeply hope everyone gets the opportunity to witness in person, flesh to wild air. I am a solitary heart and would, of course, relish the chance to experience such a place in solitude. But these places are public treasures and I will gladly trade that solitude for the protection and devotion to them that comes directly as a result of public access. It’s the cost of #publiclandsinpublichands and one I’ll gladly pay. 

(2) I had a professor in law school who was fond of the verse from the Book of Ecclesiastes, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: there is no new thing under the sun.” Hey, I’m not inventing the wheel or curing cancer here. I wanted to take a photograph of a place I find beautiful, a lovely moment that I experienced, a memory that Justin and I shared. So what if someone finds it cliche? I didn’t shoot it for them, I shot it for me, in service to my creativity, to my self-expression, to my journey through this life. I didn’t copy anyone’s work, didn’t set out to recreate someone else’s artistic labors. No, it’s not my most unique photograph ever, but I had a great time getting it and I sure do enjoy looking at it and that’s the part that matters most to me. Sometimes our true story, our actual and authentic experiences and opinions overlap with those of others. I think that’s okay. I think that’s to be expected. Call it collective consciousness, call it trend, call it whatever you’d like, but often shifts in thought (artistic, scientific, political) happen across a wide swath of people and places at once. I think that’s pretty magical, actually, and if I find a place like Horseshoe Bend truly beautiful and moving, I just can’t believe that my saying so and attempting to share that beauty in whatever small way I’m able makes me a cliche or somehow less because I wasn’t the first person to express such a sentiment. That said…

(3) There is always room to find our own voices in our creative work. If I’d been truly intent on creating something unique of Horseshoe Bend, I could have worked harder. From hauling a bunch of ND filters and a few other lenses in order to create a more artistic rendering, to brainstorming a way to tell a story of this land or its history or the cultures that have called this place home, I’m sure there are as many unique ways to express a vision of this landmark as there are people who visit it. We each bring something of our singular selves to work that we sink real time and attention into. There is always room for each of our voices and our perspectives, unique value in our true experiences, so don’t let some fear that yours is “noise” stop you from sharing it. You never know who might find your particular voice the inspiration they need to share theirs. Which leads me to...

(4) Make it anyway. The photo, the essay, the knit hat, the Instagram post, whatever. Maybe the process of making something is the point. Maybe that process unlocks a new idea, a new way of saying or seeing something. There will likely be people who don’t like it. Someone may very well call it cliche. Whatever. We can’t please everyone. Hell, it’s hard enough to please myself most of the time. Just keep at it. It’s easy for people not making anything to be critical of what others are doing, what others are putting out into the world. Those people deserve our compassion (it’s a painful thing to feel stifled and unrealized), but not our attention or energy. We need those to keep coming at our work, whatever that work might be. I think often of Elizabeth Gilbert’s words in Big Magic:

“Recognizing that people's reactions don't belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you've created, terrific. If people ignore what you've created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you've created, don't sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you've created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest - as politely as you possibly can - that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”

Right?!?! Seriously. It’s not up to us to manage the reactions of others to our heartfelt work, it is only up to us to keep doing it. So let’s keep doing it. And in case you were wondering, ignoring the “haters” and laboring on also applies to the nasty critic that lives in our heads. Make it anyway, y’all. 

 

So down the trail we went, to the edge of a red rock precipice to peer over and to look down on the immense power that slow moving water has if given enough time. This magnificent bend wasn’t formed of cataclysm or fury, but by stubbornness and a refusal to take any path aside from the one called forth. The river showed up day after day and season after season, growing faster and fatter when the rain was plenty, and slower and more deliberate when the fodder was scarce. But on it flowed, inviting one small speck of stone to join its movement at a time, asking it to break free from what it knew and to take a wild ride to parts unknown. 

We were not alone as we drank the sight in. Not the only ones standing at the edge with a camera at our sides as we looked with two open eyes. We weren’t the only ones who gasped a bit, who were struck by the sight, who couldn’t stop some form of exclamation from escaping our lips. Eventually we all lifted our cameras (or phones or selfie-sticks or whatever) and tried to capture some small rendering of our wonder to take with us. There was not a photographer there who didn’t fall short, not a one who managed it fully- by its very nature, such a place and such an experience simply defies capture. But we had to try. Had to grab something tangible to remind ourselves of the moment, of the ways large and small that the sight of steel blue water and sienna stone and geologic time both renders us minuscule and also breaks us wide, opens us to infinite possibility.

What could possibly be cliche about that?

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Just a quick reminder that the print shop changes tomorrow. Be sure to head over if you would like to grab a piece of art for your home or as a gift for a loved one! And don't forget that 10% of all gross sales from this month's shop go to The Access Fund, making sure these public lands remain protected and accessible to us all.

Desert Rains

For days now it has been raining here in the Sonoran Desert. There have been moments of downpour, but it has mostly been a quiet, insistent rain, steady and soft and unceasing. Flowing Wells Wash runs next to our little RV park, under the railroad tracks and down towards the road and I’ve watched as it transformed from dusty ditch to tumbling stream. Water has pooled in every dip, every dimple, reluctant to sink into the hard and unyielding earth. The mighty winds that proceeded the storm seems to have pushed back the unseasonably warm temperatures and it is cool and damp and raw on this February morning, even as the rain recedes and the sun tries to push some watery light through the mist and overcast skies.

The desert has sprung to life. The creosote has filled the air with the very essence of the smell of rain, earthy and fresh and sharp. The ocotillo has sprouted tiny leaves overnight and the palo verde has deepened its green into a rich, Dr. Suess inspired color. The birds are ecstatic and their songs drown the distant rumble of traffic and trains. They are deafening as they sing in celebration, the cactus wrens and mourning doves and white-throated swifts, the golden plovers and vermilion flycatchers and even the flighty Gila woodpeckers as they race in and out of their homes in the stalwart saguaros. The small creatures scurry, jackrabbits dart behind the jojoba and bursage and pocket mice horde the short-lived windfall in their nests beneath the prickly pear. Even the coyotes could be heard in the wee hours, yipping their gratitude for the wealth of water.

This desert landscape is a relative to the dust-bowl survivor, to the grandmother who tells stories of the Great Depression as she eyes her stock of canned goods protectively. There is no room for waste, for ingratitude here. Every drop of water is earmarked for survival. The lazy or slothful don’t last long and the desert is short on second chances.

This is the lesson, and the desert teaches it well. Opportunity doesn’t wait, doesn’t hang around hoping we will eventually recognize its proffered gifts and take advantage of them. Opportunity often arrives in the midst of high wind and a bit of chaos, blowing around the order in our lives, and presents a small door to the observant, a fleeting invitation to do the work that can mean our deepest sort of survival. It is to be celebrated with song and scurry, and allowed to bring richness to the colors in our lives. Because work doesn’t have to be drudgery- it can be a gathering, a washing clean, an elixir that nourishes our parched hearts. 

It won’t take long for the last dewy remnants of this rain to soak into the soil, for the ocotillo to drop its newly sprouted leaves and the palo verde to fade back to its usual shade. We can batten down the hatches and simply hunker down through the storms of our lives- wait, protected, until the status quo returns. Or we can take the lesson the desert offers and step into the rain, listen for the quiet and insistent invitations to grow, to thrive, that are hidden in the discomfort and thrown about by the winds.

 

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On the road west...we craned our necks for days across the prairie center, on the lookout for the first sign that mountains had returned. Hours after crossing into Colorado, we saw them peeking up along the horizon... 

Querencia

I recently came across the word querencia and it grabbed my heart in a way few words can and simply will not release me. I can’t stop thinking about it. Do you know this word? You should. 

I’m going to pull an excerpt from where I discovered it, because Barry Lopez explains it far better than my rehashing would (emphasis my own) : 

 

"In Spanish, la querencia refers to a place on the ground where one feels secure, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn. It comes from the verb querer, to desire, but this verb also carries the sense of accepting a challenge, as in a game.

In Spain, querencia is most often used to describe the spot in a bull ring where a wounded bull goes to gather himself, the place he returns to after his painful encounters with the picadors and the banderilleros. It is unfortunate that the word is compromised in this way, for the idea itself is quite beautiful — a place in which we know exactly who we are. The place from which we speak our deepest beliefs. Querencia conveys more than “hearth.” And it carries this sense of being challenged — in the case of a bullfight, by something lethal, which one may want no part of.” *

 

A place in which we know exactly who we are. Where we gather ourselves and prepare for the challenges we face in the world. A place from which we draw our strength of character.

Can you see why I’m obsessed? 

It’s no secret that the idea of “home” has been something I’ve thought a lot about over the last year or so. I’ve spoken of it here repeatedly. And querencia conveys what I have been ruminating on far more thoroughly than the word “home” does. Because I haven’t been trying to figure out where we each lay our heads to sleep or where we hang our clothing or store our belongings or where we prepare our meals. I haven’t been looking for “hearth.” I have been searching for an understanding of querencia.

It must be innate, part of our DNA, rooted deeply within us. When I throw my net wider, out into nature, it’s apparent that querencia is a story of survival. The western tanager knows by deep instinct where to migrate to safety when the temperatures begin to drop. A chinook salmon knows to swim nearly two thousand miles from the Bering Sea up the Yukon River to spawn her young in her querencia. The field mouse burrows her warren of tunnels deep under the snow to find respite from cold and predation.

We humans have inborn instinct for our querencia, as well. When I was in my early twenties and running from trauma and cancer and a feeling of overwhelming aloneness, I ran for a place I had never been but knew by some deep intuition was querencia. Standing among the jagged mountains and towering trees deep in Glacier National Park, I let the terror and abandonment and impotence rip its way out of me, gathered as I was in the embrace of timelessness. I have come back to mountains and trees and wildness over and over to recover lost pieces of myself, to rediscover my strength, my values, my core.

I am finding as I grow older that people hold pieces of my querencia as well. The tiny handful of trusted friends to whom I can confide my darkest thoughts or my craziest dreams or my most tentative and fragile ideas. Instead of “helping me be realistic” these friends hold my ideas, my dreams, my shaky confidences and protect them. They allow me to pull them out of my head into a world waiting to smash them and these querencia souls help me breathe life into them when I might never be secure enough to do it alone.

And I am learning where and how I carry querencia within me. How to close my eyes and pause for a breath and find the space within me that has been carved out-  chiseled out of the mountain streams and the hours on the yoga mat and the holes that have been punched through my heart and the love and embraces that have  patched those holes and the sunrises that set the sky on fire and the nights spent on blankets watching for shooting stars and the truth of my own very basic survival. I know that the word means a physical place, a place on the ground, but I can’t help but feel that perhaps I’ve begun sprouting a querencia organ that sits somewhere between my lungs and just below my heart. Maybe it is whatever the opposite of a tumor is, a tangible open space that walks along inside of me, a little field mouse warren that offers safety below the skin. 

We need this, you know. Each of us. A place to go where we can gather ourselves for the battles to come. We all have our version of a two thousand mile journey up the Yukon River, upstream moments that leave us exhausted and vulnerable and unsure that we can go on. But we can. And we can offer it to each other as well, offer the embrace or the encouragement or the safety of open hearts. We can choose to listen when others speak and to truly see them when they step into the light. I need that and so do you and so does everyone. 

Let’s find our querencia and let’s be our querencia and let’s offer querencia and let’s protect the querencias of others, be them people or field mice or a tiny, sparkling idea.

 

*From The Rediscovery of North America- if you haven’t read this short book (seriously- it’s less than 60 large-print pages... I’ve read nutrition labels longer) please do- it’s worth having on your bookshelf and coming back to again and again.

 

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We stopped by Louisville, Kentucky on our way back west, always eager to visit a few more distilleries and sip a little more bourbon. Louisville is a town that knows its spirits and knows its food and is worth a stop is ever you find yourself that way...

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A Fresh Start

We arrived in Tucson late last week and have spent the last few days simply getting our bearings as we introduce ourselves to this brand new place we’ll call home for the next twelve weeks. Justin began his new job yesterday and I spent the day reacquainting myself with how to fit the entirety of our life into 83 square feet. This morning has been cup after cup of coffee as I pour over my planner, review my goals for the year, and organize my thoughts around what I want to prioritize for this three-month period.

It’s been an unexpected gift, this break up of my year into three month chunks. Every new place offers me a fresh start, a defined space to course correct and begin again. Three months is enough time to dig into a project and make big strides, but not enough to allow for procrastination or too much hemming and hawing. One of my biggest takeaways from 2017 was just how quickly three months goes by and how easy it is to overestimate the amount of time available for things…we have to hit the ground running on every level to take full advantage of each location. Each time we land in a new place, I find myself coming to it with a miniature version of the same mindset I have at the start of a new year- a closing out and releasing of what did or didn’t get done in the last timeframe and a fresh resolve and re-prioritization as I turn toward the next one.

I think there is value in this and I deeply appreciate it. But it can be misleading, too. Upon realizing that something isn’t working or I haven’t made the progress hoped for, it can be easy to allow myself to fall into the trap of thinking I have to wait for the next chunk of time to begin again. Which, of course, isn’t true at all.

We can ALWAYS begin again. Always. Always. ALWAYS.

If there is a single truth I have come to believe in more fervently than any other, it is our inherent ability to begin again as many times as we need to. Over and over and over again. Every new moment is an opportunity to make different choices, to tell different stories, to find the fresh start that we are looking for to make the changes we want to make. It is never too late and “now" is always better than “someday.”

Sometimes there is a handy starting point that screams “clean slate!” at the top of its lungs and we know that this is an ideal moment to implement change. But let’s not forget that those moments aren’t the only ones that offer us the chance to begin anew, that there are less glamorous but equally qualified moments in the in-betweens that are patiently waiting for us to notice them, to take advantage of the space that they offer as well. 

We don’t have to wait for a new year or a new month or a new week or a new place. Our fresh start is always right here, always ready, whenever we are.

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In case you missed this month's newsletter (go sign up if you haven't yet...there are lots of fun tidbits and freebies that don't show up here on the blog or over on Instagram!), from now on, the print shop will be changing on a monthly basis and its theme will be tied to a charitable cause to which I will donate 10% of my gross sales from that month. If you have a cause near and dear to your heart that you would like included, I would love to hear from you!

In honor of Valentine's Day and celebrating love, this month’s print shop theme is “Feel The Love- My Love of Our Public Land” and 10% of all gross sales this month will go to The Access Fund. If you aren’t familiar with The Access Fund, they work tirelessly to protect our public lands and their website is a fantastic resource to turn to when you feel impotent in the face of the many ways our public lands are threatened. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to go spend some time on their site and support them in any way that you can.

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We had a fantastic (if too short!) trip back across country and I can't wait to share some images with you over the next few weeks! 

Apricity

I came across the word apricity when Justin forwarded me a little “article” he thought I’d like. He was right.

I love this word. Love it.

It means “the warmth of the sun in winter.” Isn't it awesome?  We’ve all experienced that sublime sensation- to stand outside on a frigid winter’s day and turn so that the sun warms your face is one of life’s great treasures. The juxtaposition of cold air and warm sun rays, the way it makes us close our eyes and pause for just a moment despite the chill. The way it allows the cold air to fill our lungs with freshness without feeling as though the chill will settle in our bones for all eternity. It sings to the parts in us that love winter AND that love spring and somehow makes space for the seeming contradiction.

It’s not a word that necessarily has a place in everyday vernacular…it’s not commonly known, so to use it means risking sounding like a pompous ass. But I hold it with me, as much a reminder to look for the sunshine and warmth on my cold, dark days, the sunshine and warmth in what can sometimes feel like a cold world, as for the loveliness of the word itself.  

We are still on the road and head over to pick up Kippee tomorrow morning. Cross your fingers for us as we have no idea what we'll find after five months of her sitting forlorn and alone in the Nevada desert. From there we head toward Tucson and Justin begins work on Monday. We've spent the last week or so sleeping in sub-freezing temps outside, re-acquanting ourselves with life on the road, with the sensory experiences of hunger and thirst and cold and exhaustion. It's lovely, actually. A little discomfort brings us fully awake, engages us in ways our usual insulation doesn't often allow for and I'm grateful for each moment of it. I'm also grateful for the shower I'm about to take (the first in, ummmmm, too many days...) and the Reno friends I'm going to see tonight. This life can so often feel a bit untethered, but these are the moments that ground me right back down and remind me of the connections it offers as well. It really is warm sunshine on a cold winter's day.

You are my apricity, y'all. Thank you so much for being here. 

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There was no apricity on this fine day, but Hollis never looks prettier than when fat flakes are falling and it felt like the perfect au revoir as we departed this sweet little town we've called home these last months...