broadsideblog

A few post-vacation epiphanies

In aging, animals, beauty, behavior, culture, life, nature, travel, women, world on June 3, 2013 at 3:30 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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My hotel room in Flagstaff at the Hotel Monte Vista, completed in 1927.

Here are a few of the things I realized while away for two weeks:

I need to spend time alone

I work alone all day every day. How could I possibly need more solitude? What am I — a hermit manquee? But I also live in an apartment building filled with neighbors I have known for decades, work with dozens of editors and fellow writers and spend a tremendous amount of time and emotional energy, every day, interacting with the world, often doing my best to find, woo, please and keep paying clients for my writing.

It wears me out!

Silence!

Few things are as nourishing as total, profound silence: no beeps, buzzes, cars, kids, pets. A silence so thick your ears feel blanketed. Step below the rim of the Grand Canyon onto one of the trails and just sit still for minutes, even an hour, surrounded by milennia, in silence.

Aaaaaah.

Being in nature/the outdoor world is deeply and profoundly healing

I can’t explain why this is so deeply affecting to me, but it is. On this trip I saw: rabbits, deer, elk, ravens, condors, road-runners, jays, robins, lizards of several sizes, squirrels, chipmunks. I did not (whew) see a rattlesnake or mountain lion, both common in parts of Arizona.

My favorite natural sound in the world — the wind sighing through pine trees. My favorite natural scent? Dried pine needles. The ponderosa pine forests bordering the Grand Canyon are, in this respect, heaven on earth.

The hell with “the news”

I read no newspapers, watched no TV, did not listen to the radio for five days. No access to the internet unless I paid for it. When, in fact, so much “news” is not new at all and is often telling me something stressful, distressing and/or something over which I have absolutely no control.

It is wearying to listen as much as I do, try to process it and make sense of it, whether the latest tornado devastating Oklahoma or the riots in Istanbul.

No technology

I spend much of my time processing/refining/producing, and most of my time is spent staring at a screen or tapping a keyboard. Ca suffit! I was thrilled when I “lost” the bit of my cellphone charge cord that plugs into the wall — giving me days of being truly out of touch. (Turned out it was buried in my duffel bag the whole time.)

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Vanity is a time-suck!

In my tiny hotel room in Flagstaff, I dropped my Sephora brush, shattering the mirror. So much for worrying about my looks! A week without makeup, perfume, even deodorant — bliss! (I may be an 1860s rural bachelor in disguise.)

In dismay, I watched young women at the Grand Canyon showers flat-ironing their hair, applying mascara and generally fussing way too much about their appearance. You’re camping!

Traveling alone is key

I really like being out on the road by myself. I like relating to strangers as me — not “the wife of” or “the writer for” — and just roaming about spontaneously. I read maps, on paper, old-school. I like having to figure shit out on the fly, alone. I just love to travel, and it’s a great luxury to do exactly what I want, when and where and how I choose.

My husband is a protective sort of guy, forever worrying about me. If he’d seen some of the paths I was walking on…oy.

The Grand Canyon is missing (!) 1.5 billion years of geological time — called The Great Unconformity – which does rather put one’s own life into perspective

My brain shuts down trying to fathom a thousand years. Now, try a million. Now, a billion.

To walk across rocks and touch fossils 270 million years old is a terrific/sobering reminder how utterly insignificant we are, and what a blink we each represent in time.

I like learning new stuff

I love to learn new things — how old a cotton-tail is when it abandons its babies (three months, I was told); or how to avoid a mountain lion or what to do when you see/hear a rattlesnake. Or how to pitch a tent (and re-fold it. Hah.) All too often, at home, everything I learn is work/income-related. I am very very bad at hobbies. Travel, de facto, forces you onto a learning curve, especially solo and somewhat rugged travel.

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It’s good to remember, and use, a bunch of stuff I already know

As a new friend said — competence! I bought 40 feet of cord at a hardware store and a small, sharp knife, with no plan but a sense I’d need both. And I did — to string up a tarp over my tent, to attach to my glasses frames so they could not fly off while horse-back riding through the desert. To attach all those ropes meant making figure-eight knots and clove hitches, stuff I learned as a kid and used as a sailor.

Horseback riding meant remembering (ouch!) how to trot, how to guide a horse, how to not fall off and how to mount and dismount.

It’s great to leave the husband behind once in a while

It’s great to miss him — and be missed!

Most people are rushing-around-in-an-insane-non-stop-noise-producing frenzy. WTF?!

Tell me, please, the point of going somewhere as mind-blowing as the Grand Canyon, then never, once, not for a second, shutting the hell up and appreciating its beauty and mystery – in silence. Not sketching or drawing (which takes time and contemplation), but quickquickquick snapping tons of pix. It was exhausting listening to them all shouting at their unruly children or barking instructions at one another in French/German/Japanese.

It made me want to put Xanax in the damn water supply. Good God, people. Can you just sit still for 10 minutes?

Doing less, more slowly, is not a sign of weakness or defeat

This was a first. Sigh.

This week — June 6 — I hit yet another birthday and, for the first time, feel (ugh) a little bit my age. The last trip I made to the Grand Canyon I was 39, had just fenced sabre at nationals in Salt Lake City and had thighs of steel with stamina to match. I hiked four hours down and eight back up to the rim.

This time? Not so much.

With my left foot injured, walking a lot seemed unappealing. The altitude — 7,071 feet at the spot where I watched one sunset — left me a little breathless when ascending a steep trail.

So I just said the hell with it, something that would have been impossible for me to admit a few years ago. I watched everyone biking and hiking and striding with great purpose and intensity — and yawned. I sketched and took photos and sat still. I walked the rim, and did only one 1.1 mile walk on flat ground, albeit at noon, which was way too hot.

Pretty fucking geriatric!

Whatever. I had a great time.


There are some amazing women out there!

I’ve so enjoyed some of the women I’ve met in Arizona, from the nurse and doctor who treated my foot injury to the 27-year-old esthetician/ barrel racer who drives 18 hours one way with her horses and dogs and young son from her home in Wyoming to her childhood home in Tucson.

Talk about a skill set…

Then there were the two lady park rangers, in Stetsons with badges, patrolling the desert on horseback. What a neat job!

I miss being around women whose highest priority is not being thin/rich/powerful (New York) but being strong/cool/competent and fun. I like a woman in spurs! Maybe, one day, I’ll be one as well.

  1. The older I get, the more I just sit still. You see more that way.

  2. I’m sending this to my dad. He’s about to take my sisters on vacation, and I think he could benefit from reading this.

  3. Women in spurs! Love the association with capability and independence. We forget just how recently we all had to be like that – well, in Australia … When I was a kid mother’s stories of her grandmother’s life and adventures seemed like a world away, and of course it was, but it was just a couple of generations ago when women needed to be independent and far more competent than we are today.

  4. So glad you have enjoyed our beautiful state. It is amazing, isn’t it?

    • Indeed! We should meet when we come back out there…

      I actually fell much harder for Flagstaff/northern AZ than the hotter south. This was my third visit, so I feel I’m getting to know it a bit.

  5. Sounds like you might have received the re-charge you needed. Excellent use of time – not filling it with a to do list!

  6. I really relate to your feelings about solitude and needing to spend time alone. As much as I enjoy spending time with friends, I find it so revitalising and peaceful to just sit and read, or listen to music, or even just to stay still and think. When you’re young everyone expects you to be out and about, socialising 24/7, espeicially now when the holidays are starting. The concept of spending time alone, and staying at home, without any other valid excuse seems mind bending to some. It’s like they’d rather see you getting into trouble as a rowdy teenager than for you to be seen as even a little bit of a ‘loner’ (I hate that word).

    I loved hearing also about how you disconnected from technology for your trip. When I go away to the French countryside for a week this year I think I’ll try to do the same – I feel that constantly being connected would almost upset the surroundings. I look forward to trying this out, and I’ll tell friends to try to do the same.

    Thanks for sharing :)
    Thomas, 17, Ireland.

    • Thanks for commenting!

      Boy, do I hear you on being “out of step” with others. I felt very unusual at the Canyon being alone. I’m not sure I saw anyone else even camping by themself.

      Being a “loner” is a fantastic way to find and keep perspective. How can anyone, mid-herd, do so? I’d see that as a badge of pride, not the insult it might be intended as.

      The French countryside. Sigh. Swoon. Envious!! I can’t urge you too strongly to disconnect totally from every bit of tech, even for 2 or 3 entire days and nights when you are there. How else can you actually BE there? The sad fact is that, if we don’t, we are never fully present — to ourselves and to our surroundings. Why insist on trying to be in two places at once? You’ll miss the joy of that gorgeous place.

      Short of someone’s death or iminent death, what “news” is so essential to learn when you are meant to be away from it all?

      Amuse-toi bien!

  7. Caitlin, I loved reading this. When I am in the desert or at the edge of the Canyon, it seems to require silence. There are different people here and you do have to be aware of your surroundings – I have not seen a mountain lion in the wild but I know they are there. When I am without the PC for a few days it is such a break and I do not miss it. We like visitors like you who get the reason for being here.

    • Thanks! I thought of you the whole time, and was very curious how an artist feels/experiences such beauty. I only did two small sketches but am glad I made that effort.

      It is an interesting place because of the wildlife and other dangers….you really want to veg out and zone out but you still have to be vigilant.

      We just loved our time there; Jose is urging me to blow off Newfoundland in Sept. and come back to AZ for two weeks then. I’m pretty ready to do it.

      • Well, that might be a difficult choice – I have heard Newfoundland is very beautiful and laid back but you know this already. Much as I love where I live, my husband and I will pause in front of a patch of green grass and admire it. I enjoy the smell of water on the golf courses when I ride by.

        As far as my art goes, the colors of my palette changed when I moved out here. Light is stronger and colors pop out more. On the other hand, I sometimes had to look for color where I thought there was none. It is there. My art also gravitated more to land forms and the effects of distance in the landscape – you can see a long, long way here. I also treasure the small, old and forgotten places that were part of the history of these states.

      • Arizona’s landscapes — in being able to see for so many miles uninterrupted — reminded me of Africa (I was in Kenya and Tanzania.)
        The history is amazing. I love place names like Bumble Bee and Bloody Basin Creek. (!?)

  8. My friend you’ve hit the pine cone out of the park on this one.

  9. To just sit and look out in the air, wonderful. I was swimming today, and used some time to just stare at the reflection from the sun in the water. Felt good. Gran Canyon must be another experience all together. I like the “thinkers” out there. There can indeed be to much “clicking” with the cameras!!

  10. jealous of and happy for you at the same time. and i love traveling alone. let’s me think more about me. because it’s all about me. i have family who recently moved to goodyear, arizona, from new jersey. so far, they’re okay with the change.

    also, isn’t it “non-comformity” instead of “un-conformity”? i would look it up, but i’m too lazy. here i am correcting the professional. please don’t throw anything at me. “ow.” anything else.

    • Good to hear from you again!

      It really is such a treat to travel alone and clear one’s head.

      Hey, I didn’t name the thing!

      • oops. my bad on the name thing. i love the idea of occasionally simplifying things. it’s one of the reasons i love getting to the beach. my place there is far less complicated with less crap around than my other home, which is cluttered to hell and back again. i love to throw away stuff, but others around me get upset when i try to “clean up.” so, the roughing it, back-to-basics thing can be mentally cleansing.

      • Tent, sleeping bag, headlamp, cooler. I liked how simple it got.

  11. Agreed on all points. A lot of these elements (no noise, news, internet, mirrors, fussing, and being in nature, etc.) were what made my Vermont residency in January so amazing. I had access to the internet but simply didn’t use it, and didn’t use my phone either. That was an indredible feeling of independence and personal energy-saver, just to not talk to people. I want to get more self-sufficient too, able to camp solo, take care of myself out there. Also would love to get back on a horse (I used to ride when young). Your adventure is so inspiring!!

    • :-)

      My thighs are killing me! And I totally wimped out — barely trotted for a few minutes, and did not canter as planned. I hope to see if I can trade grooming/clean-up locally for some riding time at a stable near me here.

  12. Congratulations on making the choice for a real vacation by disconnecting from the “real?’ world. I wonder if there aren’t places closer to home where you could go to escape. Maybe not as spectacular or tranquilizing as the Grand Canyon but where you could disconnect for an hour or two.

  13. this is a great piece, and all so true. we each need less at times to recharge, rather than adding more. it’s only when we step back, either by choice or circumstance, that it becomes clear. i can identify with everything you are saying and expect to see you in spurs one day ) beth

  14. Can I hear a “yee-ha!” ?

  15. I completely relate to everything you say in this post. Regarding your point about the need for nature…I’ve invented “tree-therapy” for myself which means that I spend 5 mins just staring at a tree out a window when I don’t have time to go out and be with nature. I figure it’s good for my brain :-). Btw, I think you wrote a post the other day about someone writing a rude comment to you and how disconcerting it is…maybe you rescinded that post. I just wanted to let you know that I absolutely love your blog – it’s the only one I actually subscribe to over email – and I truly connect with everything you write, and I am not someone who says that lightly. For every louse out there, there are at least 50 awesome people. Just wanted to share some encouragement :-)

  16. Missed readIng you the last few weeks…. Have been in that crazy category you so adequately defined!

  17. Hilarious read! I especially like the “vanity is a time suck”. It so truly is. And “disconnecting” from the news as a journalist is so hard but very necessary!

    • Thanks!

      I may be the only woman I know who would be thrilled to break a mirror and skip grooming for a week. I can never even remember to carry a hairbrush.

      But seriously…so I listened to 40 minutes of “Fresh Air” today on NPR and an analysis of the Sunni-Shiite conflicts across the Mideast. Did I HAVE to know this? No, not really. Like that.

  18. Wonderful post! “Doing less, more slowly, is not a sign of weakness or defeat.” Perfect. And it really isn’t a sign of age, either. Wisdom, yes — and maybe even competence. I loved reading how you managed the whole experience. Now you HAVE to try Colorado.

  19. […] quiet place with the mountains. Then Caitlin Kelly, the broad behind the excellent Broadside blog, went walking in the Grand Canyon and had a few epiphanies about silence. There were a few others as well, and articles in the local paper. This got me thinking. Does my […]

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