New Campsite, New Hike

Coming late to the party here at the BLM’s Imperial Dam LTVA (long-term visitor area) near Yuma, AZ, I had to take an available campsite from the handful remaining. But over the weeks, I kept my eye out for a better spot vacated by someone leaving early (season here ends April 15). Finally, patience paid off and got a spot I will stay at until I leave here in late February (my third campsite here). This one overlooks one of the deep, arroyo canyons with a nearly unimpeded view of the mountains beyond. Too bad photographs do not convey well what the human sees, relative to distance and perspective. In reality, these mountains are much taller and closer than the photo would suggest.

To commemorate catching a choice spot, I took a three-mile hike into and along the deep arroyo, a quiet, solitary hike providing continuing appreciation of this desert landscape. When I left the arroyo a few times to walk the level plain above, the landscape resembled a moon landscape more than Earthscape. Obvious that little water falls here, but equally obvious the plants and living creatures thriving here are amazing and have a beauty unique to them.

On this hike, as with many other hikes in the past, I came across a few small, hand-painted stones along the path. There must be a name for these, but since I do not know what, I coined a name for them: smile markers. If you know the name and the premise behind them, please add a comment and let me know. Whenever I come across them, whether on a nature hike or walking in a city or town, they make me smile and appreciate both the artistry and the selfless giving of something handmade to the wild and to the passing hiker.

Change Is A Fickle Muse

Why do I seem to get restless and sometimes embrace change as a curative? Is it boredom? Do I accept or settle too early on some arrangement, thing, or situation before the idea’s baked enough?

Or is that we humans should probably never stick to one plane of thinking and instead, like a nomadic Zen bird, happily float to wherever the wind of change takes us.

Sometimes Ms. Change shows up wearing her evolutionary colorful robe, making me think I was the one discovering how to do something different or arrange something better (when it was really her idea).

Other times, Mr. Change appears clad in prison garb, as though his only option is to escape from or to something.

Or those moments when Mrs. Change knocks on my mind’s door wearing random, miss-matched clothing, each still with the price tag affixed from whatever store she klept them from. This wily muse sometimes offers dangerous suggestions, such as “You should go spelunking but to make it interesting, wear those funky shoes that look like your foot’s painted, the ones where you can see each toe’s, and, oh I know, do it in cutoffs and a tank top emblazoned with some forgotten band from the 60s.”

Don’t get me wrong: sometimes change, no matter which muse brings it, can be wonderful and make us think it’s a highly needed course-correction change, taking us on a path where the sun shines in a crystal blue sky, 70-degree temp, with a fresh, light wind.

Then there are those times when he/she/it/they don’t seem to help but instead make things worse, hell-bent on causing chaos and emotional hari-kari. Does change have a gender? Maybe, but if so, probably random and, despite the humor attempt above, certainly not stereotyped.

Yet what fun would life be doing the same things over and over, in the same place, always with the same people? Rutted. Colorless. Boring-ish… meh.

If you examine a life lived long, no doubt you’d see a life lived in phases, with each phase shifting what that person was like, or liked to do, or choices made. So change is not necessarily a bad thing and, in fact, is probably part of our human DNA, so to speak, evidenced by such phases lived across a life’s long timeline, or through self-examination realizing our own phases lived through.

So embrace change, challenge it, ask questions, but don’t automatically dismiss or avoid it. Okay, maybe that one time it suggested I take up skydiving wearing only a thong, but that’s an easy one to say no to. Probably.

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If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy this previous muse post (fictional, of course… or was it?).

Hermitage On Wheels

Ostensibly, I hit the road back in September to travel west, immerse in nature, and spend quiet days on writing projects. It was not until recently that I finally realized why I needed to travel: to experience an extended contactless personal retreat.

I have long desired to spend time on personal retreats, whether to an isolated cabin in the woods, or some stone-walled monastery inhabited by faithful monks seeking silence and contemplation. There are places such as monasteries, abbeys, and other spiritual retreats, where one can experience such times for a fee. But that was before Covid times and now such an endeavor is probably not a good idea. And to be clear, my contemplative reasons are not religious in nature, as would be monks around me or the influence of a monastery.

I have spent almost a month at this long-term visitor area inside an expansive BLM property on the far southeastern border of California near Yuma, AZ. Until last week, when I decided not to attend a van meet up at Quartzite from a concern for socializing with others at a time when Covid contagion is once again a high risk, I finally realized the other unknown reason I wanted to stay where I was: this semi-isolated desert place pulled me here for the solitude and sameness of days, two important ingredients for any retreat.

While, unlike hermits of early Europe who shunned society to live in stone huts void of any civilized trappings, and eating barely subsistence foods, I live in this steel cave with windows, this ”hermitage” through which I can enjoy and be inspired by the beauty of desert sunrises, and the calming effect of multi-colored surrounding hills and mountains throughout the sun’s arcing path across the desert winter’s sky. I make no apologies for eating well as opposed to the ancient hermits, nor for the breaks I take some nights to binge Netflix. My interpreted hermitage is about an open environment to spend time in contemplative and creative pursuits, but not in perpetual suffering in search of being worthy as did the hermits. I am, in my mind, feeding my practice of becoming a more effective solitary for my improvement.

Plans now are to live for the remaining two months here in my winter hermitage, spending time in quiet walks, deeper reading, even deeper journaling, and a renewed focus to complete several open writing projects. I am not completely without contact, since at least once a week I have to journey to Yuma to replenish supplies, and there is the weekly small talk at the RV dump and water stations here plus with volunteers at the service center where I get packages and propane when needed. But mostly, it is a solitary experience, and that is my need for now.

Even today in an expanded, though at times inconsistent, acceptance of behavior, many people still perceive someone walking alone, reading alone, spending a lot of time alone as lonely, or at least deficient without a partner or constantly in the company of many. The media and others would label such people as “singles,” as though the only measure of reference is “opposite of married.” Historically, some of our best creatives have been what is now coined as a more apt phrase—solitaries—for those who enjoy their own company more than that of others, such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and the artist Cezanne. The famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton first coined “solitaries” to be a word independent of gender and without the burden of societal’s increased value for those married.

What many do not understand is that living alone or enjoying time alone is not a habit nor a “what else can I do?” predicament. A habit is a way of living, followed because you did it yesterday and the day before and so on, and is a way of being that controls you and your actions. A practice is a way of living that you create and renew each day, one that you control deliberately, and that is open to possibilities unknown. That is why such things as yoga and meditation practices and not habits, because each time they take us further, not just repeat what we did last time. Being a solitary is a lifestyle innate from within, not a choice or the best of one’s options, but deliberate and in one’s truest nature, one more open to intellectual and creative growth than any habit-driven existence.

In the silence of my solitary walks I hear the voices of the trees. I hear them singing of a solitude that admits no loneliness.

Fenton Johnson, ”At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life”

Reboot Day

Another trip around the sun brings us to “reboot day,” or as most know it, January 1.

Many people spend time today creating resolutions for the new year. It is not a practice I do anymore, and have not for more years than I can remember. Years past I did personal annual reviews to look back and look forward, and I suppose that is a resolutionary effort, but really more project planning.

I am not judging or putting down anyone who makes an annual resolutions list, just sharing that I do not. Instead, any day of my year can have an internal personal announcement of my intention to do this or that. And sometimes I even follow through and do it, but not always. For me, a traditional January 1 resolution list lasts about as long as Thanksgiving leftovers, yet not nearly as tasty across the short number of days it takes to become but a memory.

I enjoyed January 1, when I was still working full time, more as one of those rare, weekdays off. Now retired, every weekday is a day off, so the thrill of such days at home and not at the office are enjoyed throughout the week, the month, the year simply as days I no longer commute to an office and work a full eight (or more). That reason is enough to celebrate January 1 as I do all days of the year.

If making a list of resolutions works for you or helps you form the habits to make them sustainable, then go for it and more power to you. If other traditions, such as the southern one of eating black-eyed peas on this day for good luck, works for you then go for it, too. For all of us, there is the hope that 2022’s reboot day marks the beginning of a safer year and one getting us closer to the end of the pandemic. On that, I think we can all agree.

Desert Winter

When all is said and done, winter probably gets vote for favorite season. I say probably because it is a complicated concept to be definitive about.

A frequent topic here (eight blog posts so far), I enjoy exploring what winter means to me and how I embrace its annual season of renewal, rejuvenation, and quiet recharge of life’s batteries. Winter is not quite the same without the cold, the snow, the shift into staying inside more for warmth, often with blanket cuddling the lap, mug of hot cocoa in hand, and a good book to read despite the inevitable accidental nap encouraged by those three conspirators. Most years, it is a more subtle change of gears in the mind than a shift nudged into place by seasonal weather changes. This year, for me, winter is a season in the desert.

Don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter.
It’s quiet but the roots are down there riotous.

– Rumi

Winter for me typically means read more, relax more, or simply put, a slowed down pace of life to chill more (pun unintended). Most winters I embrace, without labeling it as such, the Danish tradition of hygge, or “coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”

It is definitely a time when I give myself permission to do less, and ease through the days more than usual to sip each moment. And I must confess, to me the winter image is one of a blazing fire inside and white blankets outside with those endearing snowflakes easing to the ground with little urgency. This year the only blazing I see are the marvelous winter sunrises a desert delivers.

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.

– John Steinbeck

This year I am still in my zone of seasonal renewal, albeit without the pleasant fire and white visuals. In the desert this winter, relaxing and renewing inside my camper van, I still have cherished memories of special winters past, ones with a fireplace blazing while outside nature’s en plein living winter artwork continues through the day. Those winters were not better than others without those two, but remain my halcyon memories. Winter is, as I choose to embrace it, is a state of mind and easily transportable to wherever one is, not just when the view outside takes on the look of a classic Norman Rockwell winter scene.

Yet winter’s renewing grace,
Its universal task,
Revives us all,
If we wear its mask.

– Gary Varner