Friday, March 23, 2012

Fri, Mar 23, 2012: Phew!

Often, I think I become intimidated by my own photographs, both in terms of how much work goes into them and how very much I want them to represent the true depth of beauty of the places I have visited. Sometimes this intimidation makes me hesitant to edit them, as I worry I will not do justice to the beautiful world we live in.

I think that has partly been the case with my trip in February. It's also partly due to the sheer number of photographs that I took! I feel blessed to be able to experience the earth as I do, and find so many beautiful things that I want to capture them in a picture.

Partly, though, the reason it has taken me so long to finish posting about my trip is that I have been oscillating between sickness and sadness pretty hard these past two months. I was sick for a time immediately after my trip, and then again this month for about a week. I am a person who gets sick very rarely, and when I do get sick it tends to pass quickly, so this has been a pretty different experience for me. I suspect that I will continue to oscillate for a bit, until I am able to reach equilibrium again, so right now I've contented myself to just ride out the waves as they pass.

There are two things I found online recently that warm my heart.

The first, from dooce.com.  To paraphrase, she says that March and September can be difficult times of the year due to the rapid changes in the amount of daylight and the way that our brains process that change.  I find this reassuring. :)  

The second, I found this letter on this blog.  It is one of the most beautiful things I've had the privilege of reading lately.  It makes me feel grateful for friends, but even more than that, I feel a sort of wonder about how wonderful people can be in their hearts.  One of my favorite things about written works (or any creative work, really) is being invited to take a journey into a piece of someone's soul.  It always leaves me feeling amazed and humbled to glimpse a really beautiful piece of a person.  Here is the letter:

131 Mount Vernon St.,
Boston

July 28th

My dear Grace,

Before the sufferings of others I am always utterly powerless, and the letter you gave me reveals such depths of suffering that I hardly know what to say to you. This indeed is not my last word—but it must be my first. You are not isolated, verily, in such states of feeling as this—that is, in the sense that you appear to make all the misery of all mankind your own; only I have a terrible sense that you give all and receive nothing—that there is no reciprocity in your sympathy—that you have all the affliction of it and none of the returns. However—I am determined not to speak to you except with the voice of stoicism. I don't know why we live—the gift of life comes to us from I don't know what source or for what purpose; but I believe we can go on living for the reason that (always of course up to a certain point) life is the most valuable thing we know anything about and it is therefore presumptively a great mistake to surrender it while there is any yet left in the cup. In other words consciousness is an illimitable power, and though at times it may seem to be all consciousness of misery, yet in the way it propagates itself from wave to wave, so that we never cease to feel, though at moments we appear to, try to, pray to, there is something that holds one in one's place, makes it a standpoint in the universe which it is probably good not to forsake. You are right in your consciousness that we are all echoes and reverberations of the same, and you are noble when your interest and pity as to everything that surrounds you, appears to have a sustaining and harmonizing power. Only don't, I beseech you, generalize too much in these sympathies and tendernesses—remember that every life is a special problem which is not yours but another's, and content yourself with the terrible algebra of your own. Don't melt too much into the universe, but be as solid and dense and fixed as you can. We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live. Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see. My dear Grace, you are passing through a darkness in which I myself in my ignorance see nothing but that you have been made wretchedly ill by it; but it is only a darkness, it is not an end, or the end. Don't think, don't feel, any more than you can help, don't conclude or decide—don't do anything but wait. Everything will pass, and serenity and accepted mysteries and disillusionments, and the tenderness of a few good people, and new opportunities and ever so much of life, in a word, will remain. You will do all sorts of things yet, and I will help you. The only thing is not to melt in the meanwhile. I insist upon the necessity of a sort of mechanical condensation—so that however fast the horse may run away there will, when he pulls up, be a somewhat agitated but perfectly identical G. N. left in the saddle. Try not to be ill—that is all; for in that there is a future. You are marked out for success, and you must not fail. You have my tenderest affection and all my confidence.

Ever your faithful friend—

Henry James

Sat, Mar 10, 2012: Snowshoeing = Hiking

My friend invited me to go snowshoeing with her this weekend, and I was psyched!  I bought new snowshoes last spring but didn't get a chance to break them in at all.  I suggested Kenosha Pass and we headed up, hopeful that we'd have a good hike.

As we approached the pass, we began to comment on the lack of snow around us.  Apparently this area was affected by the unusually dry winter as well.  We hoped that perhaps there would be snow on the trail, but the snow that remained was uneven and patchy.  I was happy to hike unencumbered in my boots, with my dog trotting along ahead of us, bounding through the deeper drifts that lay on the sides of the trail.
The day was beautiful and relatively warm, and I found myself unzipping my jacket for the first time this year.
We found a dry patch of the trail and ate a picnic lunch, the first picnic of the season!  Kaylee realized that she wasn't going to get any of our food and deeply sighed and lay her head on my leg in her typical overly-dramatic fashion.
On the way back to the car, she found this stick that must have been about 4 feet long.
She cracks me up. :)  Sometimes, she seems to do things on purpose just to make me laugh...
...which I always appreciate.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sat, Feb 4, 2012: Escape Across the Colorado Plateau, Part 7

We left the Grand Canyon in all its golden glory and traveled to the Navajo Nation lands in northeast Arizona.  I had no idea what to expect, but wanted to glimpse Monument Valley before heading home.

The weather couldn't have been more compliant, and I loved the sight of the orange rocks and sand in contrast to the bright spring blue of the sky.
The rocks just began popping out of nowhere as I left the little town of Kayenta and turned onto Route 163.
All around this area of the country, empty vendor stalls stand patiently waiting along the edges of highways.  It was just starting to be nice enough weather that some stalls I passed were populated with brightly colored merchandise, but this particular stretch of booths stood vacant.
The road into the valley was so beautiful, and I was in awe as the brightly colored rock formations began popping up on the horizon before me.
The sand was so orange, which for some reason I did not expect, so it was a wonderful surprise!
The famous "mittens" formation looked more to me like the hand turkeys we used to make in elementary school. :) 
There was a visitor's center with access to a loop drive through the rocks and several hiking trails, but by this time I was starting to feel like I was getting sick.  I hadn't wanted to acknowledge the feeling during my trip and neatly tucked it away in the back of my mind for most of the days...but it finally caught up to me.  I contented myself with sticking to the main road and driving through, happy to see as much of this amazing, alien landscape as I could.
The colors of this landscape make my heart melt into a warm puddle of happiness. :)
The back side of the rock formations were so interesting.  Apparently there had recently been some snow in the valley, but it was all melted away except for the shadowy areas and the north side of the rocks.  This next picture is of the northern face of the rocks, and it looks almost like an entirely different landscape to me. 
What really surprised me as I left the valley was the sight of more rock formations stretching out endlessly to the east.  I had no idea that this area is so huge!  It made me wish for endless days, and a horse and a few friends who also possess horses and endless days, so that we could ride off into this strange orange world of rocks to see what secrets the earth holds there. 

I faced a crossroads at this point: should I follow the route I had originally planned, through Cortez and up Route 550 through Colorado, or should I head straight north toward I-70 and take the faster way home?  I debated this in my head and finally realized that I just wanted to be home, as soon as possible, with my pjs and some soup.  As I drove through the strange canyons of southeast Utah that lay nestled within one another like Matryoshka dolls.  Each time I thought I was up and out of the last canyon, I'd turn a corner and ascend out of yet another, until I wound myself all the way up to the top of a high desert plain.
The landscape around me changed dramatically with each canyon I exited, until it appeared to be very much like Colorado once again: pine trees, snow, and sagebrush.

I photographed Beehive Rock last time I visited Moab, and my heart greeted it as if it were an old friend.
I made a small concession to myself ( I was disappointed that I wouldn't be able to see Rt. 550), and took a detour along Route 128 outside of Moab.  This is the scenic route back to I-70, and I couldn't have picked a more beautiful time of day to be there.  The sunset light painted the brightly colored rocks with even deeper hues, and I was in awe over the play of light and shadow dancing all around me.
The moon was suspended among airy clouds that soaked up the colors of the sinking sun.
We came to a bend in the road where this beautiful landscape presented itself to us:
One of the hardest things about being on vacation is having to face the reality of not being on vacation anymore.  It was hard driving back home and away from the landscape that touches my heart so deeply every time I visit.  This corner of the world will always hold a piece of my heart, just like Big Sur and New England hold pieces.  I'm relieved that hearts have endless regenerative properties, otherwise I'm not sure I'd have much of a heart left! :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sat, Feb 4, 2012: Escape Across the Colorado Plateau, Part 6

Kaylee and I returned to the car and warmed up with the heat blasting on us as the sunlight continued to rush over the edges of the canyon, a brilliant dawn waterfall flooding away the shadows.  We stepped out of the car for one more look at the view, then headed down the road to see the western views of the canyon.  (The road, awesomely, was open for public transportation but closes to the public in March and is only accessible via shuttle - woot!).

There were lady elk everywhere around the Visitor's Center, which I did not at all expect!
It was wonderful to be free to spend as much time as I liked at each lookout, soaking in the views of sunbeams and shadows and intricately carved earth.
The wind was cold and strong...
...but the views were totally worth it.  Also, as always, I appreciated its company. :) 
The Colorado River wasn't visible from most of the viewpoints, but became a more frequent sight as we drove farther west into the park.
Another elk, this one lounging nonchalantly just off the side of the road.  I think she was eating pine needles (?) and am not sure how that's appetizing!
The canyon was interesting in the morning light, with striking contrasts made between the shadows and illuminated areas.
But then, the shadows passed...
...and the light was better than anything I could have imagined.
Not two crows, this time, but one.  I usually see two.  This little guy or gal was just hanging out solo.  I dug it. :)
The shadows were incredible, almost translucent in their nature.  The quality of the light washing over the canyon was similar to what one would expect to see on the ocean floor as the sun shines through varying depths of waves and water, casting ever-moving shadows and liquid highlights of intensified light.
These views were my favorite of the day, and I loved the strange sensation that the canyon was lying on the bottom of the ocean floor.
It *is* grand!
I think I enjoyed the canyon more this time than I did when I visited it years ago in college.  I think I've really learned how to appreciate the beauty of the west.  Rather than finding it overwhelming (which I did when I was 20), I found it enchanting and engaging and stimulating and wonderful.  I think I have enough in my "The West" folder in my head that I could absorb its beauty much more easily into things I have seen and experiences I have lived through.  I soaked in as much of its glory as I could during my time there that morning, and headed up to Monument Valley with a full heart and a smile in my soul.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sat, Feb 4, 2012: Escape Across the Colorado Plateau, Part 5

We woke up long before dawn on Saturday morning in Tusayan, Arizona.  I stumbled out of bed like an underfed zombie, but Kaylee leaped up and wagged around the room as though waking up was the best idea she'd ever heard of.  I love her energy, and it is contagious, and by the time we left the hotel I felt like I was wagging with delight too. 

I had no idea where we should go to watch the sun rise, so randomly picked a place on the map: Grandview Point.  It seemed to have the most east-facing exposure of any of the view areas, and with a name like "Grandview" I figured it had to be good. :)

The morning was pitch black and freezing cold when we arrived, so we alternated between scouting out a good place to watch the morning arrive and huddling up in the car.  There was another group there just as early as us, several young European men who seemed to be engaged in the same scouting - huddling routine as we were.  At one point, one of the men asked me if this was a good place to watch the sun rise.  I responded, "I hope so!  That's why I'm here too."  

Then I looked over at his companion, and was shocked.  The guy looked like an anime version of The Little Prince at the age of 20.  He had a slender build, delicate features, and that thick, crazy wild bright yellow hair.  It was fun to imagine The Little Prince standing before me, and I'm sure the guy thought I was a little strange for staring but that's alright. :)

I wished, once again, that I had my tripod with me, but did my best without it.

And the light started slowly seeping into the sky.
The colors of the canyon were vibrant and beautiful, even while barely illuminated.
I walked around and around this area, enchanted by the colors and the rocks, so happy to have the canyon unveiled before my eyes.
It was freezing cold!  I was bundled up in several layers, and Kaylee had her little coat on, but both of us were still cold.
The cold made my mind sharp, though, and heightened my awareness of the world around me, so I welcomed its presence.  As for Kaylee, I think she liked it less than me, so I rubbed her fur when I could to try to keep her warm.
As the light multiplied, the true colors of the canyon began to show themselves: reds, browns, and honey golds shone through the blue gray pre-dawn light.
And then, the sun emerged, liquid fire flooding the canyon.
The rocks of the North Rim turned the most beautiful pink.
I love the light illuminating this piece of rock.  It looks to me like a fiery orange swan.
I have always loved 19th century American landscape paintings, and I think one of the main reasons is the way they handled light.  I think those paintings offer some of the closest approximations I've seen of what nature can do with light on her paintbrush.
It just doesn't get much better than this. :)
The light slowly shifted from pink to yellow, almost imperceptibly.
And then, the light painted with gold.
It was amazing.  I alternated between taking quick photographs and just starting at the canyon in awe, dumbstruck.
The golden light continued flooding the canyon, illuminating everything to such brightness that it hurt my eyes after spending the morning in such thick darkness.  Kaylee was shivering by this point as her tolerance of the cold had run out, so we headed back to the car for a break.