A Study of Murphy’s Law Part Three: Letting Go

All summer long I knew that the only closure I would get would have to come from Hermit’s. I needed to see that you were no long down there, waiting. My heart raged for days before we hit that trail, and I prayed and prayed and prayed that if you were still there, that I would find you. And if you weren’t, that I would learn to stop looking.

When we went back down Hermits a week before I left, the Canyon fought back with everything it had. We packed as light as all get out and I felt sick knowing that if you were down there, I wouldn’t have enough to save you. The whole hike down I looked for you in every crevasse, I looked for you between boulders and under trees, I believed that I would be able to see your plaid shirt someplace that everyone else had missed. You were everywhere. I saw you crawling across every rock layer, gaunt and accusing and ready for salvation, and I was so afraid to touch you with these cursed hands of mine. When we reached the place where we met, I stopped breathing. I kept hiking but I stopped breathing until I could no longer maintain that kind of anabolic activity and sat down midtrial and erupted into tears. My hiking group joined me and Jamie’s calm lake aura settled on my shoulder while Joe and Jacob looked skeptically from rocks across the path. It took ten minutes of hyperventilation and telling you not to come back unless you were coming back until we were able to push on. I lost feeling in my hands and face but when we reached Hermit’s creek, I felt at ease.

My friends made me laugh every second of that hike and I slipped into a post-panic attack nap with my head propped up on a rock and the bubbling stream of life slowly rocking my ears to sleep. After eating dinner and drinking some beer we went to sleep with most of us laid out like sardines, open to the Canyon on top of a blanket. I didn’t sleep a wink. I felt bugs crawling all over us and I stared at the clouds rolling past the starry night sky and I figured if you had turned into a Canyon ghost now was the time you would come pull me over the edge the nearest cliff.

We woke up at two AM to start hiking and within half an hour we encountered a rattlesnake that nearly took off Jamie’s foot and set Joe off on a puking spree. Jamie and I continued on a stupid voyage across the Tonto while the boys went back up Hermits. It was so dark and we had never been on that trail before and I felt like I could slide right off of that darkness over the edge of something no one else in the world has ever seen. I wasn’t suicidal, just disconnected. We got lost some three times and ended up at a washed out campsite with no direction, no sunlight, and no hope. We debated our options and realized that Merril’s wife, and “the experienced hiker”, and you were plaguing both of our minds. This was the place where people disappear and are never found. Only after a massive scorpion that I now know is apparently the most poisonous scorpion in N. America almost made it’s way up my pant leg did we spring out of there back in the direction we came from, almost getting lost once again.

We caught up with the boys and took our sweet time getting out of that rebellious ravine, tossing around the idea that maybe Hermit’s is so terrible because it’s rebelling against the gondola that used to be installed there. Its chaos is a form of resistance to the colonization by humankind. When I exited the Canyon that time, I wasn’t crying and I felt lighter, but I still missed you. I still miss you. And I mourn for the future of that place that will only get less wild from here on out if mankind has anything to do with it.

A good friend of mine recently wrote to me saying, “Leave the Canyon behind. There are much greater adventures to be had…” and I know she meant I have to leave you behind too. But I don’t know how. You were the two minutes I let go, the rope I let slip through my fingers, the trigger my shaking finger pulled without knowing it was even attached to a hand that held a gun. I do not know how to leave you behind. Just as every stranger at night is the man that pressed a knife against my chest, every lone traveler I see is you. They’re all you. I still see that place where we met so clearly, as if Michelangelo himself painted that encounter on the backs of my eyelids. Maybe I am still carrying around the weight of your empty gallon jug. I have taken every step necessary to not think about why my shoulders feel so heavy but God, they feel heavy. Everything here feels heavy, especially the oxygen content of the atmosphere.

I liked to refer to the Canyon as the epicenter of chaos, a spinning blackhole that pulls reality apart the closer you get to the edge of it. From day one everything felt dystopian. The tourists felt like visitors to the zoo, completely unknowing of how easy it would be for the tiger in the cage to rip their throats out. Week one, we had the gunman. We lay flattened in our beds giggling out of fear as we watched shadows glint past our window followed by the echo of a cops command. Every week there was something new and unexpected and completely wrong. It was Murphy’s Law, anything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and the closer you got to the edge of the Canyon, the worse it became. There was everything from alarms that went off at random, love triangles, mountain lions, rashes, the girl we found in the woods, landslides, cactus battlewounds, and you. And that’s just the short list. I remember asking my roommate if the national park she had worked at last summer was like this. She said, “no, this is different”.

A few weeks after you went missing, that same roommate speculated that the Canyon wasn’t the black hole of destruction, but that I was. She said that all these things that were happening only happened to her when she was with me. I didn’t want her to be right because that would mean that you would have made it out alive if our paths hadn’t intersected. A week later, she was at the part of the Canyon where that one guy shot himself and I wasn’t there with her and even though I grieved for his life and for that exposure she had to experience, I took it as a sign that maybe, just maybe it wasn’t all my fault. The piece of my heart that lives in England has had made that claim before, the claim that chaos gravitates towards me. He called it The Asfeldt Effect™. I had always just assumed that my life was slightly off kilter, overlapping with a dimension humans are not supposed to be able to perceive. He was the first person to ever make me believe that unpredictability was beautiful.

The whole summer felt like I was just holding my breath waiting for the next piece of chaos to occur, like I was standing frozen in a forest full of dead trees and wind of 40 mph. Who knew when the next log would come toppling down, who knew who would be under it when it landed. After you, I secretly hoped I would be under the next one.

I wonder if I had never met you, if I would be able to let go of Arizona, if coming back to Oklahoma wouldn’t have been/be so hard for me. I still hold my breath every time I see the sun set and I still feel the cardinal pull to the West when I close my eyes. No matter where I was in Arizona, I always knew exactly which direction the Canyon was. It was like a sixth sense that left faint traces of blood along my teeth and no matter how much water I drink, my thirst for desert sand cannot be quenched. I am trying to let you and the Canyon go and I think I am getting there but it still feels an awful lot like I am losing a part of myself in the process, and losing a part of God too. He was so real and relatable and accepting of my neurotic backward hell-bent on running away type of darkness when I sat cross legged at the edge of that void, but here He is starting to feel more and more like expectations I will never meet and answers I will never receive. I know that is not the truth of who He is, but this life is not the truth of who I am and I think the Holy Spirit feels that disconnect.

Now, I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to that land of destructive enchantment, but I do know that it both broke my heart and made me laugh at the same time and I think that means something. It will always be the balance between the nearness of death and the beauty of life. I want to go out into The Beyond with as much bravery as those mountain goats that disobeyed gravity had, but I am still learning to forgive my chattering teeth and eyes that dampen at everything. Please forgive me if one day I walk out into a new daylight and I do not take you with me; I cannot carry you forever. Omar didn’t want me to, and I don’t think the real you would want me to either.

If you’re reading this, and now I’m speaking to all of you, not just Ralph, don’t settle for only telling stories of the past, but lay awake at night next to the hearts that beat for you and write new stories with them in the constellations of every boring nightstand lamp. Hold the hands of those holding your hands and allow your past to stay in your past and allow forgiveness to be a word you recognize in every language. There will be more Canyons and we will find the next fingerprint of God and some people will have enough faith for the rest of us to rest our weary heads and say, “I’m not sure 100% of the time but still I will choose love.” I suppose I will always feel a subconscious pull towards that desolate terrain, but I will choose to keep my eyes fixed on the horizon and I will know that the sun rises just as fiercely on adventures filled with sidewalks and street lamps as it does on adventures filled with rivers and rock layers. May you rest in peace, my Canyon, and may you always bring peace to those that rest in you.

The Holiest Communion

 

When that cup passed from one hand to the other the word absolution became solidified like rain that falls at 11:59pm on December 21st. We ushered in a snow capped mountain, a glacier that stayed white and dense all year round, white like the robes John dreamed of. Our body: a bag of old WonderBread ripped with grimy fingers and presented like an engagement ring. We were unified in our embracing of jokes like “The Body of Christ: the best thing since sliced bread.” We didn’t have anything better, holier, purer, than sliced bread. I imagined the plasticky wafers I’d been consuming at communion since childhood and I realized that all those other communions were Wheaties in the face of this one. This one was Captain Crunch, Peanut Butter even. No other sandwich will pass my lips without bringing me back to that place of WonderBread salvation. Those wafers of old were good but bland, or at least as good as a wooden pew and “Peace Be With You” salvation is. Not that that kind of salvation is bad or even below average, I know tons of souls who find Jesus in the two-by-fours of that seating arrangement, but me? I’d rather be wished “Life Be With You” than “Peace Be With You”, I want a life that embodies the full spectrum of chaos to peace. I’ll take Peace any Sunday afternoon, but he better keep his hands off of my Friday mornings. I imagine 12-year-old Jesus had just as many skinned knees as the rest of us and He was still the definition of Holy.

 

Our blood was a company issued bottle full of vitalyte water, because if the Lord’s blood is going to bring you forgiveness, it might as well bring you electrolytes too. “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you and for many in forgiveness of sins”. I thought back to the grape juice I would guzzle back in a church that had walls and all I could think was that Jesus’s blood probably wasn’t that dark. He was probably malnourished, with blood wanting for iron and sugar and anything not the color of the dust he walked. I like to think our barely tinted orange vitalyte water reminded Him more of Himself than that grape juice ever did. It certainly reminded me of Him more. At the end of a long hike or run or climb, when I’m sweaty and tired and scraped up and yearning for rest, vitalyte water will provide me with a layer of restoration far thicker than purple sugar-water ever could. I could tell the hands that gave it to me understood how much more sensible it is to use a plastic water bottle instead of a chalice, they understood how important each ounce of weight is, they understood that Jesus probably walked more than we did and that he understood the importance of weight too. If I am going to carry a salvation with me into the afterlife, I hope it’s a salvation that doesn’t force me to my knees, that’s a stance no one should ever have no choice in. A man I met in the Canyon once told me that the holiest of rivers is the one quenching his thirst. In that same way, I think we found that the holiest of communions wasn’t the wine or grape juice bought by the church’s kitchen committee, it was the sacrifice of vitalyte powder, a potion that has literally saved lives in the Canyon, a potion that allowed us to keep on sweating and breathing and walking.

 

Regardless of the lack of propriety our body and blood may have had, the people that passed that cup around the circle are the kind of people you want holding your hands all the way through this life and then as pallbearers when you enter the next. They were the kind of people who would laugh in your face when you tried to pull the “but look at all of my sins” card, they would laugh in your face and then stick that card right in a shredder and say “this ain’t texas hold ‘em so stop trying to hold onto them and just let go”. I suppose we all did a whole lot of letting go. Or at least started to. Doubt fear loneliness parents broken bodies broken brains resentment shame perception sadness lust loathing mistakes self destruction, you name it, we had it. We entered that circle at the start of the summer carrying a whole lot of shit and, I don’t know about everyone else, but by the time we left I felt a whole lot lighter.

 

I don’t know why that communion was the first communion that actually gave me some sense of relief. In one word it was Holy. And it was equal. There was no man standing in front of me acting as a mediator between my sin and God. There was only us, equals, and that brought God out of his tall, unreachable throne and put Him barefoot, in the dirt with the rest of us.

 

I’ve been reading Mark 7 a lot this week. Verses 14 and 15 say this:

 

“14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

 

We talked a lot this summer about how our church leaders don’t really support us listening to Kendrick Lamar and how us girls were always told to put more clothes on and how we felt heretical when we admitted to liking beer. We found solidarity in our feelings of “bad Christian” because the things we liked didn’t fit with what we are told is good. I wrote all my sermons with a beer sitting on the rim next to me and I know that elixir helped me relax enough to stop thinking that I am only filled with bad things and I should not put my femininity in front of a congregation, and to actually come up with words of Peace and Truth. I am not ashamed to say that I shared some really good messages this summer. That is not the bad kind of pride. Kendrick talks more about racism on one album than entire churches do in a year so I will be proud of my ‘bad’ habit of cracking open a cold one with the boys – The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.

 

A lot of good things came out of us this summer. I rescued a girl from the woods. We prayed over a suicidal coworker. We sang worship songs at people hiking into The Void. It is my belief that God cares a lot more about what comes out of our lives than what goes into our bodies. It is my belief that Jesus wouldn’t hesitate when it came to using a swear word if it gets his point across. It is my belief that The Church places too much emphasis on what we look like doing something than the thing we are actually doing.

 

I want to do Good things. I want to have people in my life who aren’t afraid to challenge the tradition of man. I want to find absolution in the shape of a Nalgene water bottle and a bag of trail mix. And maybe this is heretical and I am just a wild eyed temptress who will never find salvation because it stays seated on a church pew, but John the Baptist drew closer to God than ever before by wearing camel hair, eating locusts, and running around the desert. Something tells me there weren’t many steeples full of plastic wafers out there.

Lessons the Color of Dust and Rain

How do I explain why we are here? From day one the Canyon seemed expansive. Expansive and rude and entirely too uninviting to really belong to those principles with any intent other than throwing us off his scent. In the morning the sun rolls across lungs such a deep shade of blue you would think he hadn’t taken a breath all night long. The yellow hues that smudge around those deepened edges make you believe that hope is the color of the clouds found halfway between 5 and 6 AM. I hope you always wake up for that canvas without the help of an alarm.

When I saw him, I knew that God is real, she said. She said with glistening eyes and a voice dripping with the knowledge of what it is like to feel as empty and dry as this Canyon. This Canyon will save so many, so many, so many who walk around like they carry their own tombstones strapped to their backs. There is freedom in closed eyes and gusts of wind and just too close to the edge and choosing only to look forward instead of down. You’ve got a whole lot of forward coming at you and I guarantee it will knock you flat off your feet onto the softest rock you’ve ever felt in your life. It’s okay if you want to lie there, sleeping, forever.

Have you ever been so alone your own voice startled you? Have you ever heard your questions echo off walls of limestone, coming back to you two shades lighter than you expected, and that’s how you knew that this is the place you leave your molting shell behind? Come out from that cave you’ve been hiding in, your skin needn’t be so tough anymore. You’ve got hieroglyphic sonnets written behind your eyes just waiting to be read.

Wear that dust like Cleopatra wore her mascara, boast your wild mane like the Trembling Giant boasts it’s branches, keep your boots loose enough for your toes to wiggle, and know that the eyes of the Colorado River weep 18,700 cubic meters of feeling per second. You are not weak for leaving tracks of salt down your beautiful, sun-worn face. God made cacti and rattlesnakes with just as much pride as He made tulips and butterflies, some are meant to be threatening before they are loved, you are loved even when you are not whole.

It’s an uphill battle.

It’s an uphill walk.

It’s an uphill dance.

Every time you ascend his folds of rocky soul remember that you are defying the boundaries of physics they trapped you in when they coined the word “gravity”. The only gravity worth listening to is the pull of one human hand to another. Let love be love, let love be your Shoshone sunset, let love be the water spigot after that 7-mile desert stretch. The deeper you go the better it gets.

Don’t be afraid to be the sandstorm that rages against the niceties of commercialized happiness. If you’re going to be alive, you might as well be rim-to-rim alive. You might as well be call-NPS-if-I’m-not-back-in-two-days alive. You might as well be watercolors and guitar strings and stolen breakfasts and inside jokes alive. Doubt is not the end of the trail, it is just a compass and a cairn and a moment of panic and proving that you know how to navigate the rockslides of this life.

You are you; complicated violet beautiful you. And this Canyon is a stray bullet. Be you even when he pierces you through and through. Be you even when he strikes you right through the heart. Only in total abandon will you find that peace you are looking for. I think it looks a lot like an afternoon storm. We always sleep better when it’s raining, don’t we?

 

A Study of Murphy’s Law Part Two: Drowning in Someone Else’s Storm

Joe knew something about this hike had been different. Maybe it’s his high emotional intelligence or maybe my tears are different colors when they are released from the reservoir of grief instead of the reservoir of exhaustion, but regardless, I could tell that he knew.

I sat in the car and relayed the story of Hermit’s and heard something I was about to hear more than I have ever heard in my life: “You did everything that you could”. The day passed with a lot of napping and slack lining and eating and I didn’t think much about the missing man because I didn’t know that he was missing yet. I did everything I could, remember?

 

It was the next day, Monday, 11PM and I was doing homework like the tireless part of the machine that I am when I received a call from Unknown. Immediately I thought, “well dang, I haven’t been prank called since high school” and I answered, half expecting to hear Stephen singing some Alabama fight song. What I heard instead made me sit up straight and close my eyes.

“Hello, this is Ranger Ryan O’Leary, I understand you are the hiker that reported another hiker in distress yesterday.”

“Yes, did you find him?” I replied.

“Unfortunately no, but someone has filed a missing persons report that matches the description you gave. Could you tell me about your encounter with the hiker?”

 

I complied and relayed a story I would soon seem to tell more than any other story. The ranger asked a few questions about his physical appearance, mental state, intentions, and other things that I could only make a guess at. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

 

At the end of our conversation, Ryan asked me if I could identify photos of the hiker if they were sent to me. He emailed me two jpeg’s the family had provided him and asked me what percentage I was confident that it was the same man. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. Maybe 60%? I apologized for not being much help and then Ranger O’Leary told me he would be in touch and said good night. As soon as we hung up I laid my head down on my knees in front of me and furrowed my brow to keep the tears at bay that threatened to come streaming out of my eyes once more. My roommate asked me if I was okay. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

Falling asleep came quick and painful. I tried to wrap the silence of the night around me and drift into the safe haven of that subconscious oblivion, but all night long I was in the Canyon on the Tonto layer of Hermit’s Trail screaming “I don’t know!” as rangers barraged me with “Where is he? You were the last person to see him. You have to know where he is! Tell us where he is!”

When I awoke, it was the beginning of the fog. I felt it creeping up around my elbows, holding them fast to my body, wetting the back of my neck when I least expected it. The last thing I wanted to do was go to work at housekeeping.

All day long I made those beds like I was making a life raft to keep me (or him) from drowning in the fog that encroached upon us. It was long, I was so tired, I hated it, it was therapeutic.

That evening another ranger called me and asked me to relay the story again. I complied.

 

The next day the fog was thicker. I looked out of that cloud at my friends all around me saying “You did everything you could” but all I could see was the moving of their mouths and my ears remained empty. I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. But I could sure as hell make beds so I stuck to that. I looked at Ralf (the missing hiker), if I make the perfect bed, will you finally lie down and get some rest? He smiled.

During the service that evening, I received a phone call from Ranger O’Leary. The son wanted to meet me, wanted to talk to me, wanted closure. How do you encompass the nailing of someone else’s coffin without turning into dust yourself? It was my choice. He left me with a phone number. I called.

 

Omar and his wife met me in the Bright Angel lobby that night. I had been there for over half an hour chewing on the end of a pen and regurgitating words I have yet to reread in my journal. I saw them clearly in the fog, rising up from the catacombs hidden beneath our feet. We embraced. Bethany, a park ranger with glistening eyes met us too. We stood in the lobby for about 20 minutes as I retold the story again. Again, again, again. Everything about me wanted to leave but I held those nails in my hand and I knew we could both leave lighter if I just handed them over.

 

The winds picked up.

“Did my father say he wanted to get out of the Canyon?” Omar asked.

“Not exactly, he just seemed like he didn’t want to try and cross the river anymore,” I replied.

The clouds thickened.

“So, if you were concerned enough to report him,” please, please, please, “why didn’t you beg him to come out of the Canyon with you?”

Lightning struck the tree branch above my head.

The whole world around us shook, the sky stained purple with blood pouring out of God’s wrists, thunder betraying the war hidden beneath our rib cages, hair blown so fast it cut streaks across my face. Omar stood in that storm, arm outstretched, holding a gun cocked and loaded, pointed right at my chest.

“Why didn’t you beg him to come out of the Canyon with you?”

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

I saw Bethany outside of the storm, squinting her eyes, unable to see through all te fog that chaos that stood in the middle.

I saw Omar’s wife, watching with eyes contributing to the flooding river beside us. She was in the fog but she was immobile.

I saw Omar, finger settled on that trigger, searching my gasping throat for any reason to pull it. I had plenty to give.

And then I saw Ralf, he floated in the thick air between us, unaffected by the turbulent storm, and tapped his son on the shoulder. Omar leaned in to him. I saw Ralf’s mouth barely move to utter the phrase I kept seeing but not hearing; “she did everything she could. My son, she did everything she could” and the storm vanished, leaving us gunless in the still, deadened fog.

“How could you have known,” Omar said.

 

We took the next hour at least, pouring over a map of the Canyon. I pointed out every hunch I had come up with and Omar provided even more. The ideas we tossed were absurd considering the situation. Had someone descended with gear and food and water, sure, they could have made the 30+ mile trek down Bright Angel and across the Tonto and into Hermit’s. But I wouldn’t have tried it, and I’m the one everybody always worries about ‘trying it’. Bethany did all she could to subside their concerns without providing real hope and I did all I could to make them believe their father was consumed by something beautiful. We ran circles around that map and at the end my eyes blinked with such weight I almost believed I actually had walked those miles we considered.

The conversation slowed and we all knew that sleep should be chased even if never caught. Suddenly, Omar looked at me across the table and grasped my hand. It broke my heart.

“Hannah, thank you so much for talking to us. We know you didn’t have to, but it brings me peace, it helps just to see your face,” he began, “I don’t want you to feel any guilt over this.”

“I’m sorry,” I broke down.

“No, that’s exactly what I’m talking about, we have been living guilty for the past three days. You must promise me that you will not bear the guilt of my father’s life. Please. Promise me.”

I promise, I promise, I promise.

“I know that you would have helped him if he had asked for it. But he didn’t. And there’s no way you could have known. My father was too proud to ask for help and that is not your fault. Okay? Promise me. That is not your fault.”

I promised him a hundred times over, half trying to convince myself that just saying those words meant anything at all. I don’t know how to be the truth.

“We all must remember that goodness can come from this pain,” he spoke to himself now, “we must remember that there is beauty in spite of this. We can’t become angry with ourselves or with that Canyon. We can’t hate this place.”

I might.

 

 

I went home that night and the one’s that cared were there and we all sat in my room eating chocolate while I cried about how Omar had absolved me. I didn’t tell them that that I could still hear Ralf pacing outside of my door. We talked of things that you can’t see but can only feel. We talked about enemies that seek to destroy good, we talked about spiritual warfare, we talked about how none of us were prepared, we talked about how beautiful the Canyon is, we talked about how hearts break slowly over time and then suddenly all at once, we talked about his end.

The next few days went by with no contact from NPS. So many people told me that I should distance myself, that I should disconnect from this, that this tragedy wasn’t my own. But all I could see was this fog around me and even though my arms were outstretched, nobody could see that I was drowning, nobody could see that their mouths moved without sound, that I was a witness to someone’s grief I didn’t deserve to know. Ralf stayed there the whole time, in every face that came up out of the Bright Angel, sitting on every bed I made, listening. They never found him.

Every time I go running on the rim trail I stare out into that abyss and ask him why.

“I told you not to trust me,” he says.

“But you didn’t tell Ralf,” I say.

“You asked to learn, I am teaching you.”

“You aren’t teaching me, you are breaking me.”

“Explain to me how those two are different.”

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

 

It took time, good friends, and a trip to New Mexico that felt like breathing and running away at the same time, but the fog has lifted. I still haven’t gone further than two miles back into the Canyon but the fog has lifted (for the most part). Sometimes it still comes back and I have to stare at everyone with wide eyes hoping they see how blurry their own outlines are. Most of the time I just go for a run.

Bethany called me last week to offer counseling but I turned her down in favor of the friends who have been spreading out my weight so that no single person has to bear my over exposed heart alone. They’ve been good to me. Part of me thinks they will never find him. Part of me thinks he fell in the river and will be resurfacing any time now. Part of me thinks if I go down Hermit’s again I’ll find his corpse waiting, hands outstretched. In a hug or in a chokehold, I will never know.

A Study of Murphy’s Law Part One: The Case of the Missing Hiker

 

I tied my permit to my pack, hoisted that weight of survival over my shoulders, and headed out the door into the unknown (with a vending machine Gatorade stop first on the docket). “Good luck in the depths of the Canyon. I believe that you can do this.” A note from my roommate lay folded in my journal – an unnecessary weight I was willing to carry with me if it meant my solitude could be captured to some extent. I was hiking down in to the Canyon to spend my first overnight…on an unmaintained trail…on a side of the Canyon I had never been on…all by myself. I was nervous but I was excited, ready to prove to myself that it wasn’t a bad idea.

Hermit’s Trail starts from Hermit’s Rest on the west end of the South Rim. You take a forty-minute bus ride from the Village out to Hermit’s Rest and head down an 8-mile hike to Hermit’s Creek. I could have gone another 1,000 ft all the way to the river but I decided the creek would be a feat in and of itself for my first solo overnight. I worked that day and arrived to the trailhead late – about 5:30PM. I know myself and figured I could make up the time by running down instead of walking, a thought that turned out to be a serious overestimation of the quality of the trail. I began my way down, eyes affixed to the ground in order to avoid the infinite number of twisted ankles that could have arisen even in the first ten minutes.

I saw an older couple standing next to a tan male that was seated on the ground. As soon as I approached them he begged me, “water! Do you have any water?” I pulled out my liter Nalgene and handed it to him. He took several large gulps before handing it back to me. He told me he had been with two friends who were still down the trail; they had been climbing up without water for over two hours. The couple that stood next to him asked “Do you maybe have water for us as well?” I gave them some. Only after they had all drank their fill did they ask where I was going. When I replied “Hermit’s Creek” they all gasped and asked if I had enough water to get myself to the bottom. I smiled and said, “I’m going downhill,” before continuing on my way. Ten minutes later I found the tan guy’s friends both collapsed in the shade and handed them my Nalgene before they even had to ask. “You are an angel, a water angel,” one of them said, “I wish I could repay you.” You can repay me by never coming down here unprepared again, I thought, but just smiled and let them finish the Gatorade (so much for stocking up on electrolytes). I continued on. Ten minutes later, I came across two more men who, unsurprisingly, asked me for water. By the time they were done I had one liter of water left to get me the 6.5 miles to the creek; it was time to start hauling. I didn’t see another soul for the rest of the trail. Every single one of them asked about me and my needs only after they themselves had drank their fill

The trail could have been a lot shorter had it been steeper, but instead it was a several mile long traverse across open canyon wall. The Bright Angel trail is tucked back into an alcove making the Canyon seem a lot smaller than it actually is. Hermit’s Trail was out on an open face of the Canyon; opening up an expanse of wilderness I had yet to experience. I could see for miles and miles and miles and everything about it felt lifeless.

As I hiked the traverse through the red rock layer I talked to the Canyon (because who else would I talk to down there?!) When I first arrived here, I had taken my time to listen to what he had to say, to listen to what his voice was emphasizing, and for the past four weeks I had been hearing the same thing every time I went down past the rim: “Don’t trust me.” I held my hand out gently and let it pass over the ridges in the rock to my right. I nearly felt him screaming in response to my gentility.

“Why have you come here?” He asked.

“I want to learn how to be alive,” I replied.

He cackled back at me, “You! You know nothing. You are just one little girl and you know nothing.”

“Then teach me,” I whispered, “Teach me so I can know.”

We went on like this for hours, me bending at his feet asking him what it’s like to be so vast that no one can touch you. He told me that all he does is hurt people, that all he knows is the extreme, that people don’t believe the warning signs until it is too late. I told him I know what it feels like to be rocky in every corner.

Around mile 5, I came across a rockslide area, a possibility I was aware of but still unprepared for. I lost the trail. I could see maybe 200 meters ahead of me where the trail picked back up but in between me and that safe haven was a steep, loose, uncharted slide and I had less than one liter of water to get me back to the top should I choose to turn around. I heard the voice of someone both a mentor and tormentor from a past season of my life reminding me as he held my bloody hands that the only way to know how far we can go is to go beyond ourselves, to break our own boundaries and lose the premeditated edge of “this is where I want to stop”. And even though I disagreed with a lot of his philosophies, I still believed him when he told me that pain is the only median of growth that provides real outcomes. It was with those words that I started scrambling.

I was holding onto hands that kept letting go and all I could do was keep my eyes on where I needed to be: the other side. Three ridges lay between me and a sign of civilization but the open face of the Canyon meant wind and the loose rock meant instability and I did what I do best which is to keep moving and moving and moving until the ground beneath me started sliding and I grabbed a plant that was very sharp but I held on and I managed to anchor myself enough to wait out the slide. I had tears in my eyes and I thought about

You can barely see the trail pick back up on the other side

the kid from our ministry at Zion who had fallen and I thought not today, not me, not another one and I turned back. My hand was swelling from anchoring itself to a cactus, and as I stood where the trail ended and my arrogance began I asked this Canyon “is defeat the lesson I am supposed to learn today?” He did not respond. I began walking backwards, calculating how painful it was going to be to hiking 5 miles uphill on less than a liter of water when my insides twisted around inside of me and pulled me back. I looked with a bigger perspective and thought, I am the girl who finishes what she starts. And then I saw a cairn. It was small, almost impossible to see, but it was there and it looked stood on terrain that looked passable. I chased after that direction with great vigor, knowing the last half hour had just cost me the chance of approaching camp in the daylight. I booked it down onto the Tonto layer in the last hour and as the sun set and I put my headlamp on I started running again.


I finally reached Hermit’s Creek around 8:30PM and quickly filled my water bottles and poured in purifying solution. I sat next to the creek slowing my heart beat down and thanking Jesus for the gift of gravity when I heard a voice call out “hello!” and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I turned and saw a skinny, goofy man approaching me. He apologized for scaring me and then asked if I had a purification system. His name was Dewey and he had been camping down here for two days and was about to run out of water even though he still had to go up. I lent him my purification drops and he sat down beside me to fill his jugs.

He looked at me and said, “You are like a lake princess, a river siren.” I wasn’t sure what he meant but I smiled and thanked him anyways. We could both tell his words weren’t working quite right so he kept trying. “As soon as I saw you kneeling down by the creek I knew you were a spiritual creature. You are like a woman rising up out of the Ganges, a baptism in the Jordan River.”

I told him about ACMNP and how I was here to help people understand God by showing them His majesty. Dewey lit up like a candelabra. “If your ultimate goal isn’t to love God, then you are wasting your life,” he told me, “everything else is meaningless.” meaningless, meaningless, meaningless, it echoed, echoed, echoed. He left me to my solitude and returned to his camping, saying he hoped to see me on the way up.

I pitched my tent and ate some dinner before lying down to pursue a relationship with sleep that was never going to work out. I tossed and turned all night long, listening to the sounds of the creek and the bugs that never showed their faces and the wind that imagined itself intertwined with the unforgiving rock walls

Found In Journal at 2 mile shelter house

around me. At one point, I woke up because I thought someone as shining a flashlight into my tent but it turned out to be the brightest full moon I have ever seen. My alarm went off at 3AM (gotta beat the heat) and just as it did, my body said, “no, here is your deep sleep” so I turned it off and set it for 4:30AM.

4:30AM came to me like the dream where you are falling and just as your heart comes out of your mouth you wake up. I woke up and ate some breakfast, filled my water bottles again, sat with my feet in the creek for a good fifteen minutes to calm down an inflamed big toe, broke camp, and started heading up the trail at 5:30 after the sun had already risen. My legs immediately began groaning under the future of this hike and weight of a pack instead of just water. And then not fifteen minutes onto the Tonto layer, I saw him.

 

          ……………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

This is the part where my story becomes not my own, and with that I am not so sure how much I should share. But I will share what is my own and leave the rest up those who now know grief better than I do.

 

            ……………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

I saw him rising up out of the landscape like a ghost from my youth and I thought Nothing about him belongs here. He was an older man, darkened with a life overseas, carrying nothing but a reusable grocery bag. He walked steadily but slowly; barely even stopping to register that I was there.

I said “good morning” and asked where he was going. He told me that he was very mad and wanted to sue the Grand Canyon for not having a place to cross the river. He had a room on the other side and had come down yesterday trying to cross the river. 11 miles, I thought, you are at least 11 miles from the nearest bridge, where did you come from, where did you come from, where did you come from. I thought of the 7 people from yesterday and asked if he had any water. He held up an empty gallon jug and said “no”. I told him that Hermit’s Creek was just fifteen minutes further down the trail and that he could drink the water from there, “God bless you, without that I could be starving, God bless you” he repeated it. Don’t bless me yet. I told him that if he wanted to get out of the Canyon he should turn around and follow the trail upwards, that it was 8 miles to get out. And then we parted ways.

I felt sick, I felt like something was wrong, I felt like the top wouldn’t be the same top I had left. I turned around once more and saw him walking down towards the creek. I inhaled the molten lava hundreds of miles beneath my feet and used that heat to run the engine of my legs uphill. I don’t know what I was thinking other than “I have to reach to the top and tell someone about that man”. I passed Dewey on the way up and asked if he had seen him. He had not. He saw the worry on my face and said “God sent you to be there, God will sent someone else who can help, that’s all we have, you are already blessed” how can you know that, how can you know that, how can you know that.

I continued on, passing three people who had come from the Tonto layer early in the morning. They too had not seen the man. I began to wonder if he was even real. My mind had invented things before that had not been there, but this? A talking human being? That was too much even for me, the girl who was known for being frayed around the edges, the girl who used glue to hold herself together, the girl whose sanity the universe has never respected. I thought about how anyone who would hike down a trail with no water to camp at the bottom of a desolate canyon completely alone has to be somewhat cracked to begin with. Maybe my cracks were letting out a little more light than usual. Either he was real or I was actually crazy. I hoped to God it was the latter.

I made it out of the Canyon in 4.5 hours and headed straight to the desk at Hermit’s Rest.

“Can I speak to a park ranger, please?” I asked.

“If you want to talk to a parkranger, you’ll have to go to the ranger station in the village,” the employee said.

“Then can you call search and rescue for me, please,” I said.

 

I spent about twenty minutes talking to search and rescue on the phone describing in great detail the reasons I was calling and every aspect of the encounter

Two of my friends picked me up from the bus stop in the Village. I hugged them, threw my pack in the back of the car, climbed into the passenger seat, and cried.

Prelude and Arrival

 

PRELUDE

            I left for my next Great Unknown a little over a week ago, last Thursday to be exact. It already feels like years ago. Boxes and backpacks and loose socks flew around my car while I flew down several interstates and highways towards a future I didn’t know how to expect. My first stop was in Rapid City, South Dakota. I passed through the Badlands on the way there and was, as always, struck by how an earthly monument that soft could have lasted all these years. It’s tan and orange humps rose up out of the prairie grass, casting shadows in the sun and dust clouds when stepped on. I stayed with a family friend who hospitality has never once failed me and I decided that if I ever move back home, I’ll choose West over East.

The next day, after becoming overly concerned about dangerous weather, I left at 7AM and passed through Nebraska, a land that appeared to me like something from a Celtic dream. Rolling hills, unrelenting fog, and subtle rain amplified the greenery of those pastures and it took no time for me to hit “play” next to Celtic Woman on Spotify. I stopped in Denver, CO for the next few days. That Friday, I visited the ACMNP office and was given a bit of direction on where to go for good atmosphere and mediocre coffee and then followed those directions to a place whose name I have already forgotten. It was a small house remade into a coffee shop. I couldn’t connect to the WiFi and was thus forced to finish writing a piece I started a month ago, the last time I was in Denver. A friend from OK drove up to see me and the person I was staying with. Even though the time was short, it was a good reminder of things that are to come and it helped me breathe a little easier when I think three months in advance.

I drove though a snowstorm in the Rockies that Sunday and I have never gripped 10 and 2 so hard in my life. My steering wheel still has not forgiven me. I thought about the men in my life who have driven me up and down roads like that before and I immediately appreciated the things they have sacrificed for me so much more (Dad, I’m talking about you). I eventually made it through and was blessed by a beautiful double rainbow of Las Mesas in Colorado. I think that was The Earth’s way of telling me that I can be present in one place without abandoning another.

 

I camped in the dead night of Utah with odd high school memories haunting me, and the pepper spray right by my pillow. When I woke up that morning and stepped outside of my tent, all I could do was smile. There I was, alone, finally experiencing The Desert. I drove the ten minutes to the entrance of Arches National Park and entered the loop with three liters of water, two cliff bars, no agenda, and a subtle feeling of contentment. I spent all day running around a landscape I have never before seen. Huge red stone towers rose up out of the flat earth all around me. It was as if giant beasts had been laid to rest right there and, in their resistance, had reached their claws out of their graves and left horizontal rake marks down the sides of their tombstones. The stone there crumbled easily if you weren’t careful. I took a primitive path and climbed as much as I could, especially the parts where nobody else was. The arches rose like huge bridges above me, bridgesover tunnels of open sky. You could look through them and see for miles. Several older tourists made comments like “where’s your boyfriend, sweetie? You shouldn’t be traveling all alone,” and “Don’t climb that: you’ll get hurt! You better wait for your dad”. I held my tongue but raged internally that one reason it was dangerous for me to travel alone was because people like them permit a system to persist where Female is equivalent to Weak and adventure is reserved for those who don’t have responsibilities like a husband, a house, and kids. I know they meant well, but meaning well isn’t enough anymore.

I continued on the loop to the Delicate Arch trail and hiked up a blazing hot, open desert rock slab. When I got to the top I was underwhelmed by the Arch but was overwhelmed by how far I could see and how beautifully desolate everything looked. I was sitting on top of short rock tower when a Saudi Arabian man about my age approached me and said “Wow! You are such brave girl, the bravest in my life, my friend with me is a scaredy boy and will not climb anything with me. Let us go take pictures! I will take the best picture for you.” I followed him around the area and hopped up on anything he wanted a picture from and he would always remark “Wow you are such brave girl.” It was a nice confidence boost. After I was done there, I went into the backcountry in order to scope out a secluded place to take a back tattoo photo. Taking one’s clothes off in any government owned area is always a risky idea. Eventually I worked my self-timer magic and took off at a run back down. When I got to the bottom of the trail some ladies asked me “Why are you running?”

“I’m already a quarter of the way through my life and if I don’t run everywhere, I will never have enough time to see and do and be everything that I want to see and do and be,” I wanted to say.

“It’s faster,” I said.

Driving out of Arches was almost painful, and I promised that graveyard I would return. I bought a bagel and a beer on the way back to my campsite. I hiked to a ‘watering hole’ to cool down and did some free bouldering over the deeper end. That night, I drank my beer and tried to write a song before laying down to rest in my tent for a very, VERY windy night.

When I awoke, it was my last day of travel.

I crossed Utah into Arizona and was introduced to even more deserty desert than what surrounded Moab. I saw empty cactus and shrubbery filled red land for miles. The occasional house made me think of No Country For Old Men and I wondered what kind of hardship it takes for someone to choose to remain in that desolation forever. I suppose the solitude would be kind of nice. The second I saw the sign for “Grand Canyon South Rim” my heart leaned up into sternum and I clenched my jaw for a while. I felt him coming half an hour before I saw him. It was as if the gravity of this place was pulling me in and in and in and in. I drove through the Kaibab National Forest and I got checked in at my place of employment and I moved into my room and I met up with some of my friends and we got lunch and I told them I hadn’t yet seen the Canyon and they said “follow us” and I did and then suddenly, there it was.

 

ARRIVAL

 

I have a theory about how the Canyon was made. Way back when, before iPhones and cars and electricity and even the wheel existed, the Canyon was not as much The Grand Canyon as it was just a canyon. Don’t get me wrong, it was still striking, just not at the scale it is now. Those who would see it would stand at the edge for the very first time and gasp and find that the view, though subtle, would took their breath away. The canyon, in all it’s stillness and color, would reach up behind every new unsuspecting witness and pluck their breath right from out of their lungs, and use it to fill himself. Over the years, many people that came, when they first saw him, would find it hard to breathe, would find that the functioning of their eyes had taken over every other aspect of their body. The Canyon used that air, all those millions of gasps, to fill himself up deeper and deeper, wider and wider, until he changed from a canyon to The Canyon to The Grand Canyon. All that space you see between the side you stand on and the side 21 miles away is made up of the wonder and awe and respect of generations of humans realizing that they are nothing but a piece of dust, floating on the winds of the earth’s orbit.

When I stood at that edge for the very first time, I found that the view took my breath away. It still does, even as I sit here typing this. Several of my other team members said that they cried when they saw him, but I just stood there and stopped breathing, willing that giant in front of me to never let my lungs inflate again.

I’ve been running in and out of him for the past few days, taking my time to get to know the curvature of his skin and the dryness of his innards. The forests on his edges have wooed me and the elk that wander them make me happy to think that after all these years of abuse, The Earth will still win. I hope there are others out there rooting for her.

After my first real day of work today I am realizing that I don’t have as much time to fall in love with this giant as I thought. I came here to take my time and to write down all the noise inside of my head and to wander down the trail heads of his heart and (hopefully) hear him say that the things I create are good, that my presence is good, but I think I’ll have to speed up my plan. Needing money to live puts a bit of a damper on freedom. Maybe someday it won’t. I’ll take what I can get for now, and that’s a whole lot more than most people. If you haven’t been outside yet today (walking to your car doesn’t count), go outside and close your eyes and forget about mankind. Breathe in the sunshine or the rainclouds or the night sky and know that you deserve wholeness just as much as this earth does. She’s waiting to help you find it, She’s hoping you’ll help her find it too.

The Call of the Canyon

A few weekends back I attended the national training conference for A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP) up in the Rockies of Colorado. I had the utmost nerve-wracking pleasure of meeting my ministry team to the Grand Canyon for the first time and I already feel myself falling in love with our dysfunction. During our free time, I set out to hike on my own but was quickly engulfed by four other ministry members who refused to let me find the freedom in solidarity I thought I was craving. We decided to summit a small peak that was supposed to take two hours, so naturally we did it in one. The second we set out at that unrelenting pace, huffing and puffing, I thought about the palaces I had been summiting just months earlier and realized “this is a piece of cake” (even though my sensitive sinus cavity screamed with the change in altitude). Mind over matter is not just a mantra used by the weak who capture our pity. When we reached the top, someone, I don’t remember who, said, “you guys just want to read and chill?” and that’s how I knew I had found my people. I threw up a hammock between some rigid pines and fell into a Spanish story of love and mystery and regret while the sky dusted it’s gentle blessing onto my head.

The second we started out, I realized we were about to hike the first mountain that ever captured my undivided attention some 8 years ago. I remember how that peak flirted with my competitive side and how the bigger, older, stronger boys won me over to loving the dynamic landscape by daring me to sprint down the mountainside along with them. They must have seen that subtle flicker in my eyes of someone who is never satisfied and whispered, “let’s go” before falling full force into the pull of gravity. And I in all my baby-of-the-family mindedness had the nerve to think I could keep up with them. I was right. When we reached the bottom, eons before the rest of the group, those boys all turned around to me and laughed, not at me, but in surprise of me. One of the boys leaned over to me and said “keep flying, kid”. At the time, I might not have known what he meant, but I think my heart kept that promise anyways. I remember how we parted ways from there and never shared a moment of depth again. I remember how one of them died a few years later and how that was my first clue into the fact that death doesn’t see in the spectrum of age but rather in the black and white of “now or later”. I hope he thought about flying down that hillside when he laid his head back for the very last time.

My ministry team kept things slow on our way down that old familiar peak and even though I was grateful they had chosen me to go along with them at all, I realized I have a thing or two to teach them this summer about choosing to go fast simply for the sake of going fast; about speed for the sake of speed; about flying for the sake of flying. But, we had just met so I kept my mouth shut like I always do and hoped it would be enough just to write it down later.

My team makes a lot of sense to me and I’m not really sure why. I suppose it’s because their quirkiness seeped through their cracks just enough to not make me feel incessantly uncomfortable in my own skin like I do with most new people. I felt that I didn’t have to keep my mummy wrappings on so tight, that I could loosen them up just enough to breathe even though a bit of weird and dark and sarcastic and smart slipped out. Heaven help them the day I cut the wrappings off in full this summer.

We learned many things about how to do effective ministry in a National Park and throughout it all God spoke to me and said, “this is what you’ve been looking for” and I believed Him. I believe Him in that He sent me to the place of my roots in faith to tell me that this season of my life isn’t an escape like nearly every other season has been. He sang Job 5:8-11 to me all weekend long saying “little thorn bush of mine, it’s high time you realize you’ve got flowers coming alongside your thorns and they will make each other beautiful. stop acting like you were meant to scare everyone away”. I realized that I am the earth He has been pouring rain on to and that this period of sunshine – hot, dusty, desert sunshine – will go hand in hand with that flood and make flowers pop up on my skin previously thought to be unforgivingly barren.

I am still hopelessly afraid of that Canyon; I keep having dreams that he reaches up and swallows me whole. I think it stems from the fact that I haven’t been able to place my hands and forehead upon this type of land yet to ask it for forgiveness and permission. I’m worried he will speak to me in a language the mountains never used. I’m worried I won’t recognize that call. I’m worried I’ll like it more. All I know is that I fully plan on standing on that rim with my guitar, singing songs yet unwritten into his open palms, and hopefully, he will believe that I mean good.

I hold a lot of worry that my belief system won’t be rigid enough for the rest of them the same way it seems to be too rigid for those who have never set an alarm for Sunday morning. The way I see it, God is far too big to ever fit into one human’s mind and take the shape of the most perfect summation and believe Himself complete. I think He whispers between the winds in the trees far more than most Christians give Him credit for. I think they’d all call me a heathen if they ever saw the thoughts I have crossing paths inside my skull. All I know is I have experienced far deeper things running through haunted forests than I ever have sitting in church. There is a subtle shaking throughout the whole inextricable grid of the earth and mankind appears to be the only ones who cannot feel it. Maybe if we weren’t so focused on ourselves we would notice that everything is quaking and our knees cannot remain so straight for much longer. I think that’s why I chose the Canyon over all the other ‘professional’ internships I was offered; I’m ready to be back on my knees worshiping something that is not an altar in front of me, but an air that is all around me, that is in me, that cannot be trapped in the makings of mankind. I’d like to believe anything worth believing in is Bigger than the thing that believes in it.

I’m overly excited to get the summer started, to be back with my team, to be back surrounded by those who treat the earth as a sacred place and not a servant. I’m ready to be challenged and lonely and swallowed and completely whole in a place where most people aren’t. I want to get lost in it all, I think I already am.

Things That ‘Did Not’ This Week

Her teeth white and painful and fake

My X-Ray the fuel for her finessed façade of interest

“You nearly fractured your elbow,” she says

But I didn’t

“All the damage is here except for an actual fracture,” she says

But I didn’t

“You should have paid attention to your body,” she says

But I didn’t

“You should have listened to the pain, come in sooner,” she says

But I didn’t

“You should feel very lucky,” she says

But I didn’t.

 

 

You sit in front of me with your despair dripping like melting ice cream

The need outweighs the discomfort found in every pause

“I wanted to,” you say

But you didn’t

“They say I am at risk,” you say

But you didn’t

“It’s heavy, it’s everywhere, I feel like I’m drowning in it,” you say

But you didn’t

“I want to end all of it,” you say

But you didn’t.

 

 

3:00 AM wears thin on my ceiling as I stare up into the morning darkness

The paint of that hour dries faster than my eyes drift to sleep

“You could choose stay,” I say

But I didn’t

“It would be safe, you should feel safe there,” I say

But I didn’t

“You could have found a boring, beautiful happiness,” I say

But I didn’t

“Don’t run away, just this once,” I say

But I didn’t.

 

 

God makes His plans known to his people by blowing kisses through gusts of wind

He sits in a tall tree above an empty wooden swing

“You could write beautiful things instead of sad things,” He says

But she didn’t

“Listen, the world is asking for you, don’t you want them?” He says

But she didn’t

“If you left Me, the whole world would applaud you,” He says

But she didn’t

“I think your sad things are also your beautiful things,” He says

But she didn’t.

 

 

(Mostly) Unnecessary Update

I suppose this is one of those posts that don’t make a whole lot of sense to anyone reading it but is still necessary for me, the writer, in order to make sense of myself and the place I am living right now. I’ve been spending a great deal of time getting angry with people who ask me “how was Ecuador?” expecting anything other the very long-winded truth that leaves me near tears and them wishing they’d never asked. I cannot tell you how Ecuador was in three words, if you really wanted to know, you would choose to be important enough in my life to see how it was just by looking at the circles under my eyes and the stars in them. Everyone that got to stay in Ecuador keeps posting pictures of the things they are doing and it makes me want to peel off all my skin and put someone else in that frame, so that Hannah Asfeldt wouldn’t be able to remember the might of last semester. I guess to put it plainly, I am jealous and I already feel forgotten, two things that I haven’t ever let get the best of me before, but now it seems they are. I want someone to say, “I wish you were still here”, heck, I wish I was still there. Do you realize how lucky you are? Do you realize how easy it is for a place that once felt like home to start feeling like a coffin?

 

I’ve been staring at my homework for hours lately, just staring, not doing. I’ve been staring and wondering if any of it is worth it, if I wouldn’t actually be happier running away into the Great Unknown, (seriously attempting to make money off of my words and my music), buying some little trailer and just driving and camping wherever I need to. I could settle down in Glacier National Park and strengthen my new found faith in ice people. I could crash in the Redwood National Forest and speak to trees all day long and tell God that He did well. Or I could (finally) conquer my fear of Utah and discover canyons and rock I have never experienced before. I still do not know what the desert looks like. I had real fun for the first time last night in a while and it had a little bit to do with the phenomenal company and whole lot to do with the wind in my hair and the lack of a destination. The call of the Great Adventure is turning into an incessant pounding of drums at the forefront of my ears and I’m wondering how long I can resist for the sake of ‘adulthood’ before I go and once more join in that song.

 

It seems I’ve started thinking three years ahead of everyone else around me and that makes justifying anything Undergraduate related seem positively ridiculous. My degree is now the only thing that matters at college, and I can’t even muster the motivation to work better at that. Everything is foggy.

 

God has been making me trust Him more as of late. I always trusted Him, in the way a trapeze artist trusts that the net beneath her will catch her, but she does the whole show perfectly anyways so it doesn’t even matter that the net is there. Now that I know life doesn’t have a safety net – if you believe it does, you haven’t lived – God is telling me to give the show all I’ve got anyways because He will catch me when I fall. Note that I said when not if. He’s been telling me lately that I really don’t know anything of true trust, that I’ve never actually let anyone in that deep. Sometimes we talk for hours and sometimes we don’t even speak for a minute, sometimes I can’t look Him in the eye without my walls up, but He tends to take them down in the most violently loving way possible, so I’m learning to just leave them there, down.

 

Scandinavian music has become the soundtrack to my life as I have finally realized that I have to stop chasing the understanding of everyone else’s background and finally start chasing my own. So far one of the most surprising things I’ve found is that my old Viking ancestors were way more religious than I thought. Naturally, they believed in different gods than I do, but their faith was just as much if not more guiding than the compass of the man at the helm of those ships. Even though I don’t believe in those gods, I’ve found their stories to be a comfort; I’ve found their truths in my own blood regardless of their level of fiction. I’ve found Loki hopping between my neurons when I sit down to write, I’ve found Thor chasing behind me when I run, I’ve found Forseti perched upon my shoulders when I read the news, I’ve found Vidar hold my chin up when it starts to fall, and I’ve found Skadi placing a crown of ice on my head when I feel my beauty is a thing to be ashamed of. I wonder if they know they aren’t real. There is a reason people keep writing books when the world already has enough to fill several lifetimes. Stories are what keep us alive.

 

Basically, being alive is really good. My future is unknown but it’s bright. My body is doing things it’s never done before and my mind is falling in love with what it’s convinced itself to do. I miss Ecuador and it’s mountains and the way everything felt alive always. I miss feeling alive always. I’m at about a 77/23 where I am now. But I’m learning, as one tends to do in college, and I’m listening in places where I’ve previously heard silence and the whole of it is beautifully loud. I sometimes wonder if people want to hear the things I have to say. Is there anyone out there who would listen if I wrote more than this website? Maybe it doesn’t matter, I think that’s part of being an artist, making art for creation and not for reception. The more I listen the more I have to say and to me, that’s why God is an empowering God. He never tells me to be quiet, not the way the god I thought was God used to.

 

That’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll be going to South Dakota for the summer (which is surprisingly sooner than you would think) and hopefully the openness of that place will help clear the fog away. Life is good but the future is confusing. Or maybe life is confusing but the future is good. I’ll take it either way.

what are you running away from?

 

what are you running away from, child?

what are you running away from when you sleep with your windows open no matter the cost of temperature, no matter the ease with which bad men could make their way up those walls, no matter the wings that fly in to lose their life to the light?

what is it about that breeze that keeps your stir crazy self sane, that breeze that makes you tame your mane instead of letting it fall dirty and matted and free around your shoulders, that breeze that makes you breathe with your eyes closed?

aren’t you afraid you might fly away with it?

or perhaps you already have, and you keep those windows open in hopes you will one day return.

I know you’ve spent long days with your head hanging over the edge of the bed, eyes half open, heart fully broken, trying to believe that there are no whispers on the wind telling you to go.

what are you running away from when you sneak out of crowds when the lights go down and the voices are loud so your friends don’t notice your absence the way they notice the trees when they first start to bud?

what are you running away from when you pray to wake up invisible?

and God, how do you answer Him?

He sees you running from miles away and yet He stays, He stays where He knows you will stop when you are ready to talk and He waits with the diligence of a marble Roman statue.

and what is your excuse?

who made it so you cannot even open your mouth to scream “Why?” when He tries to reach out His arms to you, but rather you stand, brimming with boiling waterfalls, shaking your head in distrust as you turn away to start running again.

where is the start of your damage?

what made the first break in your mind?

I’ve found my freedom at the top of mountains too tall for demons to climb, but what goes up must come down, and I always came down.

it seems that now, I’ve stayed.

I was trained far more in cross country than in combat so when the mistakes I have made and the men who have made me mute and the demons who don’t dare stop their destruction finally catch up to me, I look for my open window instead of my weapon. and I run.

I am tired of walking the plank just because my vessel has the potential to turn from ship to shipwreck.

I am tired of calling it quits at the hint of connection.

I am tired of feeling guilt at the thought of resurrection.

but this life seems to spin too fast for my liking sometimes so I run to keep up, or to out last, or to not be left behind.

running away is what I do best

it’s what I do instead of being the lady that doth protest

but I’m tired of keeping my mouth shut and my lungs over capacity, I want to turn my forward motion into forward tenacity

I want to see the roses bloom where I plant them

 

you can stop running anytime, love, anytime.

the wind still blows even when your window is not open to feel it.

don’t believe what they say about once a goner, always a goner; the Lord will you meet you where your legs stop working and He will carry you to the finish line, stroking your hair all the while.

there is kindness the color of glaciers and hope as important as bees, they will rest upon you once you start growing, so start growing and stop running and know that your feet deserve a rest just as much as your mind does.

stop running and start growing:

you’ll find that your soles know how to take root, and how to take root quickly, you’ll find that your shoulders are mountains in themselves and your waist is small enough to slip through the cracks in their armor.

your hair is South Dakota wheat waving in the wind and your voice is the wind in itself.

your spine cracks like the trees and grows even taller and your ribs have the stars trapped between them.

just stop, take a break, take a rest, take a breather, take enough time to photosynthesize into a reminder that you are more terrifying that the things that chase you.

you’ll find that they might stop dead in their tracks once you do too.