I tucked myself into bed last night. It was no more than nine o’clock yet my Shack was dark except for the bedside lamp and two tea candles burning softly by my elbow. For some reason candles, as redundant as they can be, are often a quiet comfort. My body said sleep but my mind resisted by insisting that I get serious about my next read; a historical novel called New York. At 860 pages I damn better get started so I did… This morning the trailer is pointed due north and I have windows filled with a blonde landscape dotted with rusts, rich greens and high above the surrounding mountains a lovely milky blue. The grasses of southwest Texas are like yellow straw that provides a gentle canvas for the contrasting trees, shrubs and outcroppings. The contours of the world are remarkable here at 5,000 feet. Awesome is an adjective that fits perfectly. The hills and low mountains typically rise softly from the plain but are routinely interrupted by radical extrusions of rock that thrust defiantly through the gentle earth crust. It’s difficult to represent the powerful impact of this backcountry for me. At once it is calming yet threatening. Awe inspiring but strangely diminishing to the notion of accomplishing anything significant. I’m in love with my world yet immobilized by it.
The notion of this trip had its origins in our extended travels begun in the fall of 2012. The freshness of each day, the open-endedness of each morning was a significant break from years of work that too frequently circumscribed my spirit. Still, for me, a career provided the bulwark for a rich life. My working theory is that my earnest, rural, rules based Catholic childhood made it easy to subscribe to a long list of shoulds and oughts that helped to shape the character I became. Without a job to distract me for the past 30 months I have doggedly attempted to untangle the crisscrossed undergrowth that has choked my more creative spirit these many years. This phase of my life journey has been confusing at times, exhilarating at others and perhaps painful for some.
So why this journey and why now? Superficially this was an easy choice with several practical elements but ultimately these pieces were not at the core of things. In fact I have been craving solitude for months or more, and I now on in the west Texas desert I have that in spades. I was hungry for clarity and on this point I still am awaiting enlightenment of a meaningful sort. I am wondering about fundamental truths and am still no closer on that fool’s errand. I am struggling to be sure I can recognize beauty, respond to love or call out evil.
At nine this morning I took my bowl of oatmeal out to the picnic table. Off to the north, down near the riverbed, I could see a lone bird, white as snow, perched on a high limb. It still sits without taking flight two hours later. I imagine it is looking, looking and I understand.
From the outset I have had precious few rules or objectives for this indulgent journey. One was to restart my reading juices. As NASA – not George Bush – would say, mission accomplished as I burn through Margaret Atwood, Walter Mosley, Edward Rutherfurd and more. I also intended to reverse my inclination of the past year to overeat. Why do I do it? It’s unclear but my success at reversing this behavior has been marginal at best.
My methodology for all this navel gazing has been the definition of unorthodoxy. Wake up each morning and observe how this man steers his way through the stimulations – and some lack of stimulation – that combine to make his day; almost a review of his unfettered choices. Think: like the scientist and the subject combined in one 32 foot laboratory. What have I noticed so far? No eureka moments but some surprising or, hopefully instructive bits and pieces. The most obvious observation is that I choose solitude at almost every turn. Days have passed without talking or even being in the presence of another soul. It’s a trait I have sometimes exhibited in my life (how did I ever become a successful salesperson?) but this behavior stands out on this trip. In the same vein its becoming clear that public writing, like my blog, is not so very important to me. Given the encouragement I get with each post it’s surprising but my inclination to sit and write is less than compelling. Some days I actively reject the impulse.. but since here I am writing once again, the jury is still out on this point. Then there is an interest to measure my competence in the everyday processes of life. How’s my driving; a little less focused? Do I remember grocery lists or events from my childhood? Can I back up the trailer confidently? Can I cleverly calculate proportions for my oatmeal without a measuring cup (no). Can I balance my Be Here Now mantra with the dizzy and dismal news that arrive with the New York Times on my iPad each morning? Do I make the bed and do the dishes in a timely manner? (yes, for what it’s worth). Alcohol consumption, always a factor for us Irish, is about as always but I notice a little craving once in a while! A full analysis of these and more points will surely follow.
Hanging over most of this line of thinking is my impending death. It is becoming clearer to me that the specific event of end of life is less interesting or important than the steps leading up to our demise. When I turn my head to see a sea of wind generators and the arthritic limitations to my range of motion gives me a shot of pain I curse aging. When I catch my body contorted in an old man posture (I always flattered myself with a self-satisfied notion of fluidity) when climbing down a hiking path I curse aging. When I swallow handfuls of routine medication, am reminded of my faded sexuality or caught up short by the realization that more and more options are no longer open to me I curse aging… and all these instances are doubly present on this journey.