How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
— Annie Dillard
“I don’t much care for straight lines. Too lacking in possibility.”
– Craig Childs, from Soul of Nowhere
We are driving through Arches National Park, and it’s raining. There are big flashes of lightning here and there, but I can’t hear if there is any thunder. The car windows are rolled up against the rain. The gray clouds and sky make a different backdrop, one I like better than the normal clear blue skies. There is more emotion, more drama. This is what this place stirs in me, varied emotion, varied feelings, the gray mottled churning of the sky.
This place is not as simple as a cloudless bright blue sky.
Neither am I.
“To stare directly into the eyes of a place like this, to not look away, is nearly unbearable.”
– Craig Childs, from the book Soul of Nowhere
Max and I spent quite some time here, photographing and getting to know this place, in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. We also sheltered from a few rather large thunderstorms here, and watched some fantastic lightning shows from the comfort and safety of this cave in the canyon wall.
Check out his much better photographs on his website: Max Seigal Photography.
I am sitting in Natural Bridges National Monument, at Owachomo Natural Bridge, the last of three natural bridges in the Monument. It is after dark, and I’m waiting for the stars and my friend Max, who is photographing the night sky. In the distance, from their pools in the narrow rock canyon, I hear frogs that sound like sheep and chickens. Bats fly about in quick loops, swerving through the dusk.
The stars above and around Owachomo were visible first. The view through the bridge was cloudy for quite some time, the clouds trapped by the rock ceiling. The wind plays with my hair, and gradually dances my body heat away across the desert, through the bridge, out to the stars. I brought a cushion to sit on, and my sleeping bag to wrap around my shoulders. I have a book to read while I wait for Max to finish his pictures, painting the arch with light so it shows up in his shot.
Every few minutes I turn my headlamp off, let my eyes adjust to the dark, and look all around to the expansive sky of stars. I’d sit here and just watch the night, but I know it doesn’t take very long for me to fall asleep, lulled by the dark, the wind, the reassuring stars all around. I don’t want to fall asleep, not yet, so I read to keep myself awake, engaged, present, and yet not, with my surroundings.
This is the perfect place to read this book, The Soul of Nowhere, by Craig Childs. It is about these places, and blends with them. It gives me another way to connect with this space around me, through the words of someone else who has absorbed this place and knows how to articulate what it means.
“… I am hoping to become the same, a person who is changed by the land, who puts a pen to paper and tells what I have seen of this land.”
– Craig Childs, from The Soul of Nowhere
I’ve lived a lot of places, but I’ve never lived out here, in the desert of Utah. I wonder what it would be like, to wake every day to this. It looks like simple starkness in all direction, but looks can be deceiving. We drove past a man walking down the highway–on the wrong side of the road I might add, he should be walking against traffic. Not that it matters, with so few cars. We’ve only passed maybe 10 so far this morning, including all those in town where we stopped for gas, coffee, and the bathroom. I forgot to brush my teeth. The man was miles from the nearest building, at least a 30 minute drive from our direction, 5 miles in the other according to the sign he passed. It’s just after 8 a.m. Where is he going, and where did he come from?
This is a long road to walk to get to nowhere in particular, and probably even longer to get to somewhere specific.