Friday, June 22, 2018

Seeking Solace in Stone

A panoramic Grand Canyon photo by my talented husband
I had chosen to spread out processing my photos and memories of travel to enjoy the experience longer.

I should have guessed that politics would make escaping back into the quiet, timeless rocks a psychological imperative. I've spent most of this week agonizing about stolen children. I've written my congressmen and donated some money, but feel mostly helpless.

Asking anything of my very Republican representatives feels increasingly less effective than starting to pray to ancient Babylonian gods.

 If you know anyone in power, kick him or her for me.

My hurt isn't helping anyone. It's time to set away for a few minutes.

So I'll call on my travel spirit guide, in this case the raven I managed to photograph at the Grand Canyon, and try to focus on the rocks, because traveling the four corners is all about the rocks.

Rocks lend a different perspective to our brief lives. Geological time is vast and hard to comprehend, but the striking layers of rock all over the Colorado Plateau make it impossible not to believe in an incredibly ancient earth upon which we humans are relatively recent inhabitants.

The oldest rock I encountered is a relatively recent arrival. 50,000 years ago, a meteorite struck a flat, desolate part of Arizona, creating a mile-wide crater over 550 feet deep. Bits of that meteorite are scattered all over the desert floor and on sale for as little as $3 at the gift shop, but the big chunk on display is a piece of iron and nickel believed to be over three billion years old. Astronomers assume these metallic meteors were formed at the same time as the planets in our solar system.

The crater was formed before the earliest traces of humans in the southwest, but even if people were in the region, it is unlikely anyone would have been harmed. Meteor Crater is on one of the most barren pieces of land I've ever seen.

Our guide said that natives knew about the crater and hunted near it, leaving arrowheads, but they have found no other sign of habitation.

White people first bought the land as a mining claim, hoping to find a huge meteorite that had actually been burned up in the atmosphere and vaporized on impact. Later, the land around the crater became part of a vast cattle ranch. It has to be vast because the unpromising vegetation can support about one cow for every fifty acres.

It's hard to photograph the whole crater from its rim,
The crater has remained in private hands and the museum is privately developed, so we didn't know what to expect. Frankly, the web page and the faded road signs leading to the crater led us not to expect much.

We were pleasantly surprised. There is a Subway restaurant on site, so you can avoid heat and starvation (if you can afford it.) The museum is up to date and interactive with lots of information about the history of the crater and of the science done there.

It took the lifetime work of more than one geologist to prove that this crater, in an area dotted with volcanic activity, was actually caused by a meteorite.
which is why I stole this picture of the whole complex on-line
                                                    The clues these scientists used made it possible to identify other meteor craters around the world and contributed to information used to study craters on the moon and Mars.

Tourists are no longer allowed to hike into the crater because the owners got tired of paying search and rescue to retrieve victims of heat stroke and sprains. Erosion is a problem too. Wind will gradually fill the crater with sand, but hikers were speeding up the process.

We hadn't planned to hike anyway. The mid-morning heat was bad enough that we weren't sure everyone in our tour group was going to survive half an hour on the crater rim listening to a guide. If you go, sunscreen and hats are a must.

The newest rock I encountered was less than a thousand years old. (I miss-remembered and told my parents about 200, sorry.)We found it  almost on accident. There was time between Meteor Crater and a Lowell Observatory visit later in the afternoon, so as we drove back to Flagstaff, I looked for other points of interest on my phone.

This brought us to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. This is the most recently active volcano of many in Northern Arizona and has become a place to study how nature comes back after the total devastation of an eruption. Apparently it took 400 years for plants to start growing on the lava field. Now there are pine and aspen looking very out of place on this desolate landscape.

People were living in the area at the time. In fact dendrochronology of logs in buried pit houses helped scientists date the eruption. No human remains were found. It is assumed people had enough advance warning and perhaps passed down knowledge of volcanoes, so they moved to other sites (one of which we visited) before their farms were covered by the lava flow

 No one is allowed to climb the cinder cone, but there are several trails. We only had time for one and plan to go back and spend more time.


The rock that drew us south in the first place is the Grand Canyon, which in addition to being beautiful is a textbook of geologic time. The Colorado river started cutting through the rock "only" five or six million years ago--Still before people were known to be in North America. But it cuts down through the ages--layers of sandstone put down by the sediments of lakes and seas. The lowest point of the canyon is made of hard igneous rock possibly 2 thousand million years old. I heard several fellow tourist exclaim in disbelief that there was an ocean there, but the evidence is written in stone. 

The canyon is impossible to capture in photographs, but I give you my attempts. These were taken from the south rim on an increasingly windy and increasingly crowded June day. 





If there were fewer people we would have stayed longer. I feel like I could spend hours leaning on a guard rail and absorbing the vastness of the canyon, but we need to find a time of year and day of week that allows for a little meditation. 

Before I return to the present, I need to leave a strong recommendation for the Museum of Northern Arizona. It had the best information on the geology and people of the area. We will be back there when we have several hours to learn. 

THE PODCAST this week is on a poem I read while traveling. It describes how a sunset transforms an ordinary village into shades of red and gold. The red and gold struck me and I tried and failed to imagine Emily Dickinson's reaction to the four corners area.


THE KNITTING is a commission piece ordered while I was away. I made a false start with the colors reversed, but I'm well underway now. These subtle natural colors remind me of some of the pottery I saw. Pottery-inspired hats may be made from the leftovers. If you want me to make something for you, communicate through my shop.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Finding Home: An Authentic Indian in a Cowboy Town

The best part of the petrified forest and the painted dessert is neither. I am always most interested in the human footprints.
Finally home after six days on the road, I'm feeling overwhelmed.

I felt pretty good on day 2 at the Grand Canyon!
Physically overwhelmed to be certain. My body was giving way by the last day or two, past the point that I could mask weakness through the usual mix of caffeine, morphine, and adrenaline.

Although I kept offering to drive, I was thankful every time my husband turned me down. As much as I loved our trip as adventure and a chance to escape from my everyday boring sick life, my everyday  boring sick body had been ignored long enough.

So today at after two o'clock, I'm finally up. I've been up and down for food and shower and laundry, but it has definitely been a podcast listening sort of day--focusing on the voices of historians in Ben Franklin's World because I'm done sleeping, but not ready for anything else.

But I am also overwhelmed in amazing ways. Over the next few weeks I'll be processing my trip emotionally, visually and academically. All will be part of my personal history, but much will also be posted here as blog entries.

We travelled so far and saw so much. Here's a brief Facebook summary my husband posted which expresses it well.

Crazy roadtrip of 2018 stats -
6 Days
1,828.6 miles driven
22.1 MPG Average (v8 baby!)
35,151 steps taken
1 Jackrabbit almost hit
1 (we think) ferret almost hit
2 prairie dogs almost hit
4-5 Squirrels almost hit
1 antelope standing in the way until we stopped moving
Completely lost count of how many lizards we spotted on our walks.

North American Pixellated Ravens



He didn't count the ravens because they were our constant traveling companions. 

I'm addled enough by fibromyalgia to experience my own form of magical realism, so I like to think it was the same raven following us throughout the four-corners region. The fact that I occasionally saw nests and groups of ravens does not discount my idea of a "Guardian raven" following us around and leading us home. Maybe he was even the local raven that lives by our grocery store along for the adventure.         

Despite many attempts, I never got a good raven picture. There are a few reasons for this. 

(1) Black animals are notoriously difficult to photograph well.
(2) Birds move pretty fast. 
(3) The zoom quality of my iPhone camera is crap. 
(4) By the time the ravens actually posed for us, in the Petrified Forest, I probably couldn't hold my phone or myself still long enough to take picture.
(5) Supernatural beings are notoriously difficult to photograph at all.

You may be relieved to discover that the bulk of this blog will not be about ravens, but about home. Home may well be the theme of many of the blogs about this trip because the four corners area, inhospitable as it appears, has been home to overlapping groups of people for at least 10,000 years.

Tower at the Grand Canyon--inspired by native culture
I first realized I had left home when we stopped for gas in the White Mesa Ute reservation. This cute little Mexican girl ran into the restroom as I walked out. Then I looked around and realized that she was probably not Mexican but Native American like everyone in the store but me.

The gas station/convenience store was also an eight lane bowling alley and there was a school bus outside that probably accounted for the twenty young men bowling. I'm having linguistic fun trying to use Ute youth in a sentence, but I can't remember the name of the school district and honestly don't know if they were Ute, Navaho, Paiute, or from a tribe further away.

While I was inside, my husband got a kick out of a young man driving in to gas up with music blaring from his truck in typical young man fashion--in this case traditional native singing and drumming.

I've grown up with a natural fear of "the other," extending to travel on local tribal lands, but saw nothing but friendliness. (And some of the best cell phone signal on our trip.)

I will be less nervous in the future, which is good because I long to study the towns left by the Native American's ancestors and learn more about what they did to create comfortable homes in the desert. If I ever become less shy, I would also like to interview native Utahns about their lives and homes today.
Also inspired by native culture:Holbrook, Arizona--inspiration for Pixar's "Cars"?
Maintaining homes in  a dry place isn't easy. Most of the small towns we travelled through in Arizona looked like they were dying. I know many Utah towns that suffer the same way. People come in to buy cheap land on which to build big dreams, but the harsh sandy winds erode the dreams along with the signs painted to promote them. 

Small town museums can be the best places to learn about layers of people who try to make a place their home. We learned a lot in the museum in Springerville, Arizona by talking to a man who had retired there after a career in the Tucson area. He thought it was the most beautiful part of the state. (Maybe we haven't seen enough of the area to not disagree.)

He taught us that the volcanic cinders that make up most of the soil make farming too difficult for more than small, subsistence gardening.

This unpromising soil became the home to ancestral Puebloans who built a settlement nearby over a thousand years ago, then moved on for unknown reasons before the Navaho arrived five hundred years later, soon followed by the Spanish explorers.

After the Mexican American War, two parallel settlements were built by Basque sheep herders and Mormon Cattle ranchers. Despite combined economic interests, two towns remain, each proud of their independent heritage.

The museum houses possessions of a wealthy Parisian woman, Renee Cushman, who moved to the area to become a cattle rancher. Because she died childless, she donated her amazing rugs, paintings, and furniture to the museum.  I marveled at the difference between her new home on a the wind-swept, quiet, high desert after growing up in a bustling elegant city.

My husband pointed out that the woman who runs (and hopefully owns) the hotel we stayed in in Springerville is in a similar situation.

Like many in the hotel business in our part of the country, she is from India. Because I am not nosy, I didn't ask why she left India, why she chose Springerville, or whether the older man reading the newspaper and the older woman helping with the baby were her parents or her in-laws.

I complimented two of the things she planted to grow a home in the harsh Arizona soil. She has trained a plant in the hotel lobby to grow up one wall and cover the ceiling. It is gorgeous and makes the poor Antelope head on the wall look even more exotic and out of place than it did in the wild. I should have taken a picture.

I did take pictures of one of her two well-tended rose gardens. They are in gorgeous full bloom and show signs of daily care. Whatever brought her to this lonely foreign place, she is determined to cultivate a home.

THE PODCAST took a vacation when I did, but next week will be a poem about a sunset with reds and golds so fantastic that the great masters of the Renaissance drop their brushes. They and Emily would need medical help to recover from the golds and reds of the Navaho reservation near Monument Valley.

THE KNITTING went better than expected. My left arm still hurts, but isn't any worse after lots of driving knitting. I almost finished the piece I expected to finish before leaving, but ran out of yarn. I know the brand and ordered more, which should arrive any day. 

Other than the crucial finishing work, I finished a shawl of my own hand-spun yarn and own invention which is inspired by the broken geology through which we travelled. Some time this week I will tuck in the loose ends and block it. It may eventually appear in my shop. I'm calling it Ravenland.

I've also started one of the two projects I actually planned to make on this trip. It may be finished in a few weeks. What makes that less likely is the yarn I just received from Mountain Meadow Wool as part of a subscription. These are the colors of the southwest and I'm aching to start playing with them. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Grow up already! But not too much


I'm about to abandon my children.

The deepest part of my maternal instinct makes me feel like I'm leaving them alone in a hot car.

My feeling is ironic because I will be the one in a hot car--on a much awaited trip to the Grand Canyon and other southwest destinations.

The boys will be home with central air, a full freezer, and high speed internet. Besides, my baby is turning twenty.

Stereotypes of single women haven't changed much
I've been thinking a lot lately about what qualifies a person for adulthood. Part of the inspiration is this week's PODCAST about two poems in which Emily Dickinson declares herself a grown woman and person of power. She wrote those poems in her early thirties.

Another thirty-year-old just lost a highly publicized court case against his parents who were trying to evict him.

I can't imagine it coming to that with my boys. But there is no reason to think either of them are going anywhere in the next few years. They, and we are lucky. We are prosperous enough to continue to help them out.

I had the same privilege. In college I felt like an independent adult living on my own, but tuition was paid by a scholarship and Dad paid my rent. Adulthood with a net. And that net is still there. Both my parents and my in-laws live close by and have always provided a support system.
The Ewing family all lived happily together. What could possibly go wrong?

My husband and I are both of two minds about being empty nesters. He occasionally tells them to get lives and grow up already and I covet one of their bedrooms as a spinning room. But they are helpful and we don't know who will take over for the cooking, cleaning, and mowing after they leave. That and nervousness about spending down days alone in an empty house inspires my contradictory fantasy of building on a garage and apartment or two so we can all live together, forever. That very idea should make my kids plan their moving dates.

Kids in foster care and in less comfortable families are on their own at eighteen--newly hatched adults without safety nets.

The young people will win
Whether or not that is old enough depends on who you ask and when. We tend to think about people growing up faster in olden times, but the idea is exaggerated.  Even in the Middle Ages when we learn about people getting married in their early teens, kings and queens often couldn't get out of regency situations--where uncles or mothers ran the kingdom for a child ruler, until into their twenties. A lot of peasants waited to marry until their twenties because they waited for a degree of financial stability.

Today we let people drive at 16; vote, graduate, and join the armed forces at 18; but they can't buy alcohol or check into hotels on their own until 21.

In any case, adulthood may well be overrated. While adults lead a kleptocracy in Washington, damaging our country and leaving our most vulnerable without help, actual children are taking the lead to protest gun violence, environmental damage, and other problems in society.

To pull our country out of this dark time, all of us will need to call on whatever youthful hope and passion we have left.

THE KNITTING is greatly impeded by an overuse injury to my left shoulder. This is really irritating.

I have a friend who keeps forgetting who she's talking to and insisting she is not going to spend her senior years knitting in a rocking chair. I would love to do that, but my body is protesting. My left shoulder feels like I have been hauling rocks or rowing across the ocean rather than stabilizing a few ounces of knitting.

But it irritates me to stop, so I drug up, knit a few rows, and try to do other tasks before knitting a few more rows. I don't know if that helps me recover slowly or keeps me from recovering entirely. Recovering is not something my body does, as a rule, so I'm not willing to wait for pain to stop before knitting to start again.

We will soon be driving for the better part of five days in a row. To prepare, I have packed enough knitting for the next three months. To prevent my left arm from falling off entirely, I should probably offer to drive, a lot.

I'm hoping to finish at least one thing and to have a knit picture to add to the wonderful desert pictures I should be coming home with.

We will arrive home on Friday, so next week's blog will be late (again).