Friday, September 16, 2016

Without Fear of the Future: Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arizona, and the Meaning of the Wilderness

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On the way into Bryce Canyon, UT
Alright! Another recap from the road: this time, an account of my time in parks number 4 and 5, Bryce and Zion.

My last post from the road covered Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef. From Capitol Reef, we spent a good 6 hours on the road, driving through Bryce Canyon and making only the occasional stops at scenic pull outs. I'd love to revisit this park with more time and get some good hikes in, but since we had to get to Zion, this time around it was an all-too-short visit.
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A scenic overlook in Bryce
Which wound up being okay, because I found Zion stunning and amazing and would have loved to spend even more time. I'm not sure what energy or connectedness I felt to this park, but immediately I loved it. Between the names of the trails and geographical features, and the history of the park itself, this place immediately reminded me of every reason why I went on this trip in the first place. 
Zion National Park from the Grotto Trailhead 
As I pulled into the park's entrance at sundown, light beams in my eyes dangerously bright, I smiled and thought: this is why. This is why I travel, this is why I need nature, this is why I listen to the pure, honest, quiet voice within that says goThis.

It is because nature is wild and omnipresent- everywhere, powerful, and brilliant all the time; such a clear indicator of our Creator- but modern man has both so commodified it and overlooked its scaredness that we are more surprised when someone finds nature a necessity than a vacation. But nature is no vacation. This is it. Like God Himself, there it is: so everywhere that, as long as we're self-focused, we miss it.
Zion Canyon from the way up Angels Landing trail 
Which brings me to the point of the pressing question I've gotten several times (from strangers and those I know) since leaving on this trip: 'why travel [alone] in nature?'

Because. Because this is the meaning of wildness and rebellion so natural it's peace. To say I'm someone who knows who I am, or am in touch with the realest part of myself, I have to. It is just like creating: it's an inherent need. It's where freedom comes from.

It's in the very soul of every human being. Just because 'the world is a dangerous place' or 'traveling is expensive' (or that age-old excuse: work) does not eradicate the reality that we are made- literally created- to do this: to be aware of our inherent oneness with the planet, to witness the reality of God in the natural world that humbles us with its grandeur and overwhelms us with its beauty. 
Looking back from the way I came on Angels Landing trail
There's so much truth in that, that you don't realize it's there until you just do it. We become depressed, angry, resentful, unpleasant when we forget. We become reborn when we remember. And then we never want to forget again.

We need the vistas, the climbs; the unknowns, the silence, the danger; the wildness, the time alone. The beautiful joy of waking up in unknown places and realizing we're actually always home. We need it more than we need jobs, money, security- all those things we covet, we posses and secure around ourselves to create the illusion of safety- that is how we need nature. I've been reminded so many times on this trip that seeking the things of God leads us directly into the wild for which we were made: the journey is never safe or obvious, and it is always right, amazing, unexpected. 
Emerald Pools Hike, Zion
Every time we exit the corridors of our minds, which we think contain the highest truths, we are met with the mind-blowing, transcendent reality that we are small. We are small, and yet- yet- our smallness is not without power. We have infinite worth in glorifying our Creator to whom we owe all. We have infinite worth in telling a story beyond ourselves.

When I am in the wild, I am reminded that He meets us wherever we have the courage to meet Him. The journey of oneness with Christ, for me, began in darkness- in sadness, lostness, confusion, the desire for more- and He met me there too. 
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At the top of Angels Landing- with an original creation 
Life with God is an adventure of both the inner world and the outer world. I've been learning it and seeing it. I was originally planning to do this trip with two others, but the way things played out it could only be myself and Joyce for the first five parks. So why would I not go, for any reason other than fear? Fear is a very real emotion- but that's all it is: an emotion. If you trace it back, it is always born of a reaction to uncertainty, to the unknown. 

The best way to truly overcome it is not to fight it on your own, but to meet it with whatever else you are seeking in this life which is not emotional, but which you know is known without condition. When we seek the Lord- the rock which is higher than we are, our greatest hope for peace- fear is not gone, but irrelevant. 
The beginning of the steep ascent to the top of Angels Landing
Much of this trip's personal meditation for me has been on these things: what will I let go of in life that may allow room for God to work in ways beyond what I can imagine? Do I have that kind of inner bravery? I have a confession: my most stubbornly prideful thoughts are that those that presume they always know the outcome. As a creative person, I think I've developed a brain that doesn't need to see linearly- from A to B to C, in a straight line- so imagination is a process I'm almost constantly involved in. In life, in art, in words, in traveling. All the time. It's a form of hopefulness.

I'm a story-teller. A thought-sketcher. An idea-articulator. Creativity is a lens through which I tend to see- the physical creation of a body of work is merely a byproduct. So that's good, when it comes to me making art.
Angels Landing trail. This trail was interesting because your time (and sometimes success) depended on the people around and in front of you
But when it comes to my Creator making me, I have to remember my place. At my work desk, I'm the artist. But in life, I'm nothing more than raw material: sitting there confused, terrified, under-confident on my own. Every time I think I'm in control, I'm not; every time I think I can predict tomorrow, I can't; every time I think I know what's going to happen, something else does. That's life.

And the author of that life is working things for good, even when I can't see or feel it. Linking together pieces, editing in parts I thought were finished, introducing new life in ways I would never have guessed. It is at this point a pleasure to let go and let Him work in ways so much better and bigger than I ever could. Every instance of overcoming fear- whether the climbing of a mountain or the overcoming of hindering thought- reminds me of that. 

And so I go. And there He is. Always. And my very life, in His hands, begins to feel like art, that unknowable process I know so well.
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Looking down on the Walters Wiggles section of the trial: multiple switchbacks until you begin the cliff wall climb 
These were my meditations in Zion. As for the physical reality of what I did there, well, it was a test of everything mentioned above. It's hard to believe that a year ago, every chance I got (that the weather was decent in Illinois or my work shift was during daylight hours), I would drive home from work and on my way stop at this one forest preserve, either to go for a run or wander through the woods. 

It was there that I started praying and getting closer to the idea that one day I might no longer need to drive to and from work 30-40 hours a week, and I might have a life that more closely resembles the one I have now: more art, more freedom, more (and more and more) hiking and nature. More storytelling, more sight-seeing, more love. 
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The chains on Angels Landing appear periodically to help climbers up dangerously steep sections 
A year ago. A year of putting old things down to pick new things up. I think about that sometimes- the view from walking in those woods, the trails I used to take- and I think about how far I've come. I still love walking through those woods. I still do when I go home. In a very real way, they are as beautiful as any mountains or National Parks, because my story comes from them. Their value is in what they pushed me to imagine, to become. They ignited something. 

In Zion, of course, my hiking trails looked a little different. The above pictures are of Angel's Landing, a 1,500 foot rock formation in the park that overlooks Zion Canyon. The trail is 5 miles roundtrip, and, at the steeper parts, there are chains intermittently anchored into the rocky ground for hikers to pull themselves up on, since the route is so vertical and steep. 
The beginning of the Narrows 
I hiked Angels Landing pretty fast, since I did it on my way to another hike I was planning to do with a fellow traveler I met earlier that day in Capitol Reef, who also happened to be heading to Zion. About halfway up I got a text message from him that he was caught up obtaining a permit at the visitors center, so my quick pace wasn't necessary but wound up being good because it maximized my limited time. (The hike usually takes 3-6 hours, but I was up and down in 2.5). 

Angels Landing was my favorite of the three hikes I did (The Narrows and Emerald Pools being the other two). It was riveting, beautiful, scary at parts, and just generally awesome and challenging. 
In the water at the Narrows hike
The Narrows is another iconic Zion hike, which I also loved for its unique wildness: you hike to the river in the beginning, but to complete the trek, you actually get in.

I wore waterproof shoes but was of course completely drenched to my waist at some points, but it was 100% worth it and awesome (the literal definition of 'close to nature.') The hot sun dried me off on the way back to the trailhead, where I took the shuttle back to the visitors center before heading out of Utah and departing for Arizona.
Lake Powell overlook, Arizona
I was super excited about our airbnb reservation in Page, right outside Lake Powell: a perfect little spot on Navajo land- no running water, no amenities, just a tiny wooden cabin in the middle of a wind storm that left my already unwashed-for-four-days hair completely gross. But hey, it's all part of the adventure.

And it was a wonderful evening: Joyce and my final night of travel together was spent lounging in the dark cabin with lots of candles, a bottle of red wine, and rich conversation about life, love, and the goodness of God. More reflection and journaling, more learning and reflecting.
The road- and surrounding nothingness- outside our Navajo land cabin
Simple pleasures: a bed and two chairs in our cabin on Tuesday night
In the morning we woke, packed up our cars, and drove to Antelope Canyon, Arizona's famous and beautiful slot canyons, which were surreal and sublimely beautiful. They were as stunning as every photo I'd ever seen of them (I can't wait to paint watercolors of some). Pictures of those to follow. 

As of now, I'm in Southern Arizona, just south of Phoenix, and tired after a long day of driving here from Sedona, where I stayed last night. 

More to come.
A lone horseman in the Arizona desert, from the cabin in Page, AZ

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