Edward Abbey’s desert: ‘You only get so many chances…’

Grateful Blog: Day 94: 94 Days of the ‘Grateful Blog’…my God…only 272 days to go. ‘94’ makes me think of 1994. I was 26 and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had a girlfriend who I’d just driven over 10,000 miles with from Seattle to Lower Economy Nova Scotia and back (via Yosemite, Eldorado, Oklahoma and the Great Smokey Mountains no less) in a Toyota Corolla. By the time we got back its safe to say we were borderline no longer able to stand one another. Later we found out that friends had been taking odds on how long we’d ‘last’ before killing each other. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…

I had another friend who’d just read and then sent me Edward Abbey’s ‘Desert Solitaire’ and I’d read it cover to cover and wound up fascinated with the Utah desert. Somehow I procured a pamphlet on opportunities to volunteer with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and they listed a position in Canyonlands National Park. It paid $198 per MONTH, but I’d get paid me to go check out what I’d just read in Abbey’s book. I was hooked. Sign me up! And they did…

I packed up everything I owned, threw what I couldn’t pack away, and drove 18 hours to get there. It was February and the interstates of Oregon, Idaho and Utah were snowy, treacherous and full of semis. But I got there to the SE Utah desert on the high Colorado Plateau just as spring hit. There were still some cold days but there were lots of sunny days in the 70’s. And it was gorgeous. It was everything Edward Abbey said it was and more. I worked in this place called the ‘Maze’ and ‘Horseshoe Canyon’ for about 2 years. To begin to describe either would take a book and even then you’d fall short for lack of words or lack of pages. At some point words fail to describe something THAT beautiful and just being quiet and listening becomes more important.

I learned that from the desert and a 100 more things it taught me. I’m Grateful for all of them, even the ones like heatstroke that damn near tried to kill me a few times. ‘Watch your step.’ ‘You only get so many chances.’ I learned those too. But everything has 2 sides to the coin. And while you do ‘only get so many chances’ you have to remember to take more than few—because you ‘only get so many…’

I’m Grateful I took that chance in 1994. When it gets to be ‘Suicide Weather’ in winter here in the Pacific Northwest there’s always a day in February when I realize that this is just about the time I’d be getting the call from the Park Service to go back to the desert. I know it’s been almost 20 years but I still feel that pull of the desert in springtime, I still need to go explore the canyons, see the endless, vast blue sky by day with its high rolling clouds and see ALL the stars at night. I need to soak in a hot spring for 4 hours and then come back later and do it again. The desert is all part of the process of losing yourself in something bigger to find yourself again. It taught me that too and I’m so Grateful I was listening because ‘You only get so many chances…’

Let the Mystery Be: The search for Amelia Earhart goes on…

Grateful Blog: Day 81: I read in the paper this morning that there’s a new expedition in the South Pacific looking for clues of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, which happened 75 years ago. I’m too young to have grown up with Amelia Earhart but her flight and subsequent disappearance are legendary. Somewhere on July 2nd 1937, after leaving New Guinea her plane, a Lockheed Electra 10E, disappeared and she was never heard from again.

I think I first learned of her watching old 1980’s episodes of the show ‘In Search Of’ where the host Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek’s ‘Spock’) would delve into topics such as the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster and Amelia Earhart. Later, when I used to attend bluegrass jams at Seattle’s New Melody Tavern in the early 90’s, occasionally someone would lead the group in a rousing version of a song dedicated to her. There’ve been many songs dedicated to her, from artists as diverse at Joni Mitchell to Kinky Friedman to Bachman Turner Overdrive. I once stayed in the ‘Amelia Earhart’ room in the La Posada Hotel inWinslow, Arizona. Amelia Earhart’s legend got around…

But nobody exactly knows what happened to her that morning while attempting to circumnavigate the globe with her only crew member Fred Noonan. One only need to look at her Wikipedia page to see it rife with theories, myths and urban legends of what may have happened flying over the vast South Pacific ocean. The most salient is that through a series of navigational errors, they missed the island they were attempting to land at, ran out of gas, and crashed at sea. And for 75 years, only Amelia and of course Fred Noonan, know what happened…

The new expedition used the phrase of ‘finding a needle in a haystack’ when explaining their chances of finding meaningful evidence but I honestly hope they don’t. In today’s technologically driven world it feels like we’re one step removed from a computer algorithm telling us that we’re not human or real at all, that we’re somehow less than the sum of our parts. I know that’s far-fetched but we’ve already broken down the world into it’s smallest atomic particles, mapped our DNA and explored the new frontiers of nanotechnology and the far reaches of the universe alike.

It’s not that I’m a Luddite or that some of those scientific findings might not be good in advancing the cause of the human race, it’s just that I’m a romantic at heart. I like to think that some mysteries should just remain exactly that. That maybe the legend of Amelia Earhart should live on, in songs and stories and in our imaginations, rather than in an inglorious ending finding an aluminum strut washed ashore on some remote South Pacific beach.

So let them search for Amelia’s needle in that vast blue haystack, let them search and search and search until they’ve exhausted their wits and their funds. And let them return home empty handed like so many have before. Let the mystery live for another 75 or 175 years before technology rules every square inch of our beautiful and endlessly complex planet.

This morning, in the absolute middle of 64 million square miles of the beautiful, vast and calm South Pacific, there is only the rhythmic sound of the waves, the sea birds that sail over it’s waters, and the low, throaty ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ of Amelia Earhart’s silver Electra, still looking for a place to land…

I’m Grateful that Amelia’s still out there, and that some mysteries may never be solved…

Springtime: A Blanket and a Fire.

Grateful Blog: Day 71: When I was 19 I bought a ‘Mexican’ style blanket in a parking lot inHampton,Virginia. Springtime inVirginiaand the night’s get cold. We were on a 6 day run of Grateful Dead shows coinciding with a non-existent Spring Break that we skipped out of classes for anyways. Warm days on the beach. Dancing in the Coliseum aisles at night. Then many hours reveling in the Bacchanalian parking lot festival that was a Grateful Dead show. Sometimes it was better than the show itself. And sometimes it’s bloody cold inVirginiain springtime. I bought the cheap blanket for $10 if I recall.

4 years later I was living in Seattle,WA. The other side of the country. Dragged that blanket with me. In fact all I brought with me was an interview suit, a handful of Grateful Dead bootleg cassette tapes and that blanket. Don’t know why. Maybe good memories. One night I went to sleep while I was writing poetry and stories in bed. Hmmm…turns out I’ve been doing that for longer than I’d imagined. Writing by candlelight and keeping myself warm on a secondhand mattress underneath that cheap blanket.

Somewhere in the night I woke up. On fire.Me.The sheets. The bed. I’d fallen asleep. The candle had burned down. Flipped over I guess. I woke up, parts of me dangerously singed and the bed in full tilt blaze. I’m not sure exactly what transpired next but what I recall best was leaping out of bed, grabbing that blanket and smothering the flames, on me and the bed. Put the whole thing out, smoke alarm still blazing. Smelled like hell. My roommate was asleep on the couch in the living room but he kept saying out load: ‘Dan, I don’t know how many times I’ve told you to cook the burgers slow instead of cooking them fast and burning them’. He never woke up. Bizarre…

Earlier tonight I was sitting in one of my favorite chairs, and oldMissionstyle rocker in the den, just relaxing for a few minutes before Sunday was no more. There’s a lot of windows in the den and I got a chill sitting there. I reached back and pulled a blanket off the back of the rocker and it was that cheap, worn, stained and yeah, singed Mexican blanket that’s kept me warm on more than one occasion and helped saved my life on another. I’m Grateful for that and for one of life’s little reminders that sometimes it gets cold in springtime…