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...

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!

Lately...

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

The Last of Thirtysomething

This week I enter the final year of my thirties. It's oddly surprising to find myself here at the end of my fourth decade of life, to suddenly realize that my next birthday will begin a new decade and that I am firmly in the center of what is commonly referred to as "mid-life."

I am not dismayed by age or aging. Perhaps I would be more saddened by the lines around my eyes or the bits of sag here and there that seem to arrive overnight had cancer not strode so boldly into my life at an age when I still believed myself invincible and that time was something that stretched out luxuriously before me with no end in sight. Perhaps there are survivors out there that lament the grey at their temples or the softness that doesn't disappear with an extra run or two, but I've never met one. I am, inherently, deeply grateful for each trip around the sun I am granted, each year that I am given to work toward the potential I carry within me, to strive to grow and stretch just a little more and perhaps even put some small beauty back into this world that has given me so much.

Like so many others, I was deeply moved by Amy Krause Rosenthal's open letter published recently in the New York Times (if you haven't read it yet, grab some tissues and go read it now, I'll wait right here).  Her writing is that perfect combination of poignant, self-effacing, humorous, and brutally honest that every person who desires to put words on paper aspires to and this letter had me snot-crying by the halfway point. It struck me for the 875 millionth time that cancer is a fucking rat bastard thief and that, in this particular case, it stole not only this woman's future dreams and plans, this husband's partner, these children's mother, but it stole this amazing voice from the world. Fuck cancer.  I don't mean that in cutesy hashtag form, I mean FUCK cancer.  Fuck it.  

But I digress. In addition to being so very moved and in awe of this woman, her letter did what every story of someone stolen by cancer does, especially when it's ovarian cancer. It reminded me that I'm damn lucky to have survived, and that my body carries within it a lurking murderer who may, at any time, choose to steal my future and my husband's partner the way it stole my ability to be a mother. In his book Half Empty, David Rakoff says about remission, "The assurances are momentary, at best half comforting, like being told 'That's not a man in your room. It's just your clothes draped over the back of a chair casting a shadow, see? However, there IS, actually, an insane, knife wielding murderer loose in the neighborhood. G'night.'" Seriously. Did I mention fuck cancer?

So birthdays. Birthdays aren't lamented by me and neither is aging. I am so grateful to have made it nearly four decades and I am not beyond begging the universe for four more in any way that might get the message through. I love being alive and I love the incredible mess that being alive entails. 

I also feel the way I think most people feel as they get older, a bit surprised at how the time has passed, at the disparity between the self in my mind and the one in the mirror, to realize that if I'm lucky enough to get forty more years, I'm somehow already halfway through my precious time. And I find how others perceive my age utterly fascinating.  In a class I took in January, I was patronizingly asked by an early twenty-something if I knew what a smartphone was, and then ten minutes later, I was told by a dismissive sixty-something that I was too young to really "get it" yet. Apparently I am both too old AND too young to know anything worthwhile. Hilarious. 

All of this rambling to say what? To say that, holy crap...I made it to 39, y'all! I am here and I am breathing and I am, in this sweet moment, free from diseases that want to kill me. I will celebrate this gift of time and of years, of life and of lessons, of mistakes and of mess. I will bow my head in humble gratitude knowing that I did not earn them, that I was not more special or more deserving than those who did not make it this far. I will go forth in this final year of this whirlwind decade of my life and I will do everything I can to inch toward the exceptional human I know is inside of me (as is inside of us all). I will do my very best to bring more love and laughter and forgiveness and compassion and courage and beauty into this world that at times can feel broken. I will lift up others so that we might all rise together. I will reach and I will fail and I will get up and reach again.

And I will live. Loudly and without apology, I will live.

---

We've been doing a bit of bouldering recently and have been loving Bull Creek Park along Austin's famed Greenbelt...

Homebody

Every day now I am redefining my idea of home, of what grounds me in this life and where I hide from the bigger world when I need quiet and solace and solitude. Is it this rolling tin can of a “house” with its four aluminum walls and painted fiberboard interior? Is it my little family of husband and dog and the choices we make together for our days? Is it something I carry within me, separate from structure and routine and external validation?

I don’t really know yet. I suppose that’s part of what we’re doing out here, part of why we shook things up in the first place. And this not knowing is both thrilling and liberating and deeply uncomfortable. I swing from feeling wholly rooted one moment to entirely rootless in the very next. 

I am a homebody in the truest sense of the word. I love to be at home, to tinker in the kitchen and fiddle in the garden and rearrange the furniture so that “cozy” is always the most applicable adjective to describe the space. But I am also very much at home snuggled deep into my own inner life, under the soft knit blankets of my ideas and plans and imagination, thinking and wondering and allowing my curiosity to roam freely. And when I’m strong and running through the woods, when I’m connected to every muscle and sinew, I inhabit each millimeter of my body and know that it is home as well. 

So I’m finding that as we alternatively move and stay, I must take time each day to think about “home” with real attention, to consider where I will find my sense of home in this moment. It’s no longer a static place on a map, but a fluid idea that must take the shape of whatever container I have on hand at any given time. I am learning how to do this. I am learning how to be a homebody with no fixed address, to relinquish all of my old ideas about how that must look. And as I do this rather uncomfortable learning, I’m reminded yet again that cultivating meaning and purpose in my life is about honest, no-getting-around-it hard work, the work of growing, the work of deepening my understanding of myself and my world and where I fit into it.

Where do you find home?