From the Field: February 19, 2016
I’m back in the field, breathing the alpine air, seeing the sunlight glimmer off the few patches of snow around me. It is the third week of February, and my third week at Legacy, and I am up at 9,000 feet, below the Henry Mountains.
This afternoon I listen in silence to the wind that will not be silent, that is only silent when absent. When my heart is absent though my body is present, what purpose does my silence possess? I must be present and attentive to the silence at the heart of my being, in order to be in possession of myself. I cannot possess this moment, or any moment; I must allow all moments to pass through me and pass away. As the day passes and I turn back to the natural world, to contemplate its wonders in silence and awe, let me pray not to retain the self I was, not to become the self I could be, but to be the self I am, at this moment that is now passing.
At this moment, what my soul needs no other soul can give me. What does my soul need? I don’t know. I wait, not knowing. I wait to be split open, and to sink down into the split in the wood that the axe has severed from itself, so that I can discover what will hold my soul together. I am parted from myself, split like axed wood.
These words have lost their meaning for me. There is no life in words alone. The words are dead, and the spirit is life. The life is deep within me, and the words must come from those depths, and I may have to wander for many years before they come. They do not come unless I go, and so it is time I went.
The rest of the group sits around the fire and eats food. I sit here seeking a less physical sort of sustenance. I wait, feeling the warmth from the sun and the chill from the wind. I wait, though it is time I went. I wait and am still, though Mt. Ellen stands above me, waiting to be climbed. What will I find up there that I cannot find here? I sit here, my body resting, and my soul can find no rest.
Here or there, I find myself lost, for my deepest self is my soul, and in my distance from it is my distance from myself. The mountains are so near, no longer in the distance. I feel stir within me the desire to walk up them, keep walking beyond them, with only the pack on my back.Keep walking south to Arizona, and further down, into Mexico and Central America, down into South America, the southward journey provoking the downward journey into the soul. The wind flips the pages of this journal, as if provoking me to move onwards, turn the page, walk forward boldly into the uncertain future, leave behind the dead pages of my close-curtained past. I do not ask anymore for direction, for I know I will not be directed by anyone but the one who lies dormant in my bursting breast. I do not ask anymore for a companion, for I know I cannot wait for another to walk along with me, and if I cannot be companion to myself, I am not ready to walk yet. The wind provokes me, and the sun burns my skin, and many voices share contradictory advice. I feel and I listen but no voice is louder than the silence within me, waiting to be heard. I must lend my ear to my heart’s yearnings, though its meanings remain unclear.
Yesterday has passed. This morning before dawn the moon is shining low on the horizon and the whole world is still, at this moment, in this place. The mountain I will climb when light returns to the sky is not lonely. The moon is not lonely for the sun, though they just miss each other, the one going down while the other comes up. I am always just missing, almost connecting, yet remaining alone and unable to come to grips with my aloneness, to grip my other hand and pull myself deeper into it. There must be some meaning here that I am not grasping, or is it that my attempt to grasp some meaning, and hold onto it, leaves my hands empty? I must find some meaning in being alone. I must learn how to be alone and be glad, find joy and peace and love in my aloneness, have faith that these years of solitude will bear fruit, endure the pain and confusion of this darkness between the setting of the moon and the rising of the sun.
Most people turn to sleep at these moments of pre-dawn’s near-utter blackness, but sleep has turned away from me, she has abandoned me to my awake fate, and so I must turn somewhere else. I am awake now, and it would not make sense to lie awake with my eyes closed, pleading for light to come more quickly. Light will come when it comes and not necessarily when I am ready. Not all are ready to rise when light returns to the sky. I must prepare myself to bear witness to the light, and in order to do that I must stay awake, though the moon has just gone down and the sun is not yet up, and the temptation to close my eyes is strong. I am already too much awake; it is too late to go back to sleep.
On the Road: November 17, 2017
It's 4 a.m., and I'm in the bathroom of Roper Lake State Park, outside of Stafford in eastern Arizona, sheltered from the cool desert night, taking what little comfort is available from the lukewarm showers here. I've got a cup of hot coffee beside me, in the same stainless steel cup I had at Legacy. I was a client there from February to June of 2016. Next week it will be Thanksgiving 2017, eighteen months later. I couldn't sleep, raccoons kept coming into my campsite, trying to get at the food in my panniers. I've been on a bike tour for the last two and a half weeks. I'm living the adventurous life that legacy helped inspire me to live, but it's not all warm showers and hot coffee.
It's a long, slow road I'm on, one that often gets lonely. Slow and steady wins the race, I told myself as I pedaled two days ago up route 77, seven miles up 3,000 feet of elevation with 100 pounds on the back of my bike. What race? What victory? It's hard not to feel deflated and defeated, to feel like a failure in life, to wonder about the futility of your own individual existence, when you wake up at midnight after three hours of sleep to the sound of raccoons scavenging through your food, and you spend ten minutes yelling yourself hoarse at said raccoons, which seem to be totally unafraid and go right on gnawing at the bag of instant rice you neglected to put away, thinking not even the coons would go for that, and now four hours later after being unable to fall back asleep, you take solace in the State Park bathroom, take a lukewarm and soap-less shower, and dry your hair under the hand drying machine, dreaming of sinking deeply into a plush comfy chair beside a wood stove fire and next to a bookshelf with hundreds of books, sipping hot tea and reading of some faraway arctic adventure as you sit in your comfortable home by the blazing fire with your steady, well-paying job and your loving and lovely wife and your sweet and adorable children. Instead, you are alone, a twenty-six year old man without a steady occupation, without a significant other, without a significant sense of your own self, leading a iodine existence on the road to nowhere.
But no, every road leads somewhere. The dead end road leads to the wilderness that is the beginning of life. I'm on the road, craving this morning before dawn no longer for the temporary warmth of alcohol, my old and unforgiving mistress, but for the more permanent warmth and comfort of some place I can call my own, that I can call home. I say more permanent, for of course nothing is completely permanent. I'm on the road to recovery, and this road doesn't end. It's the road to rest and serenity, the road home. Home must be earned. Recovery is the victory that makes sense of this gnawing sense of defeat. Feeling like a failure precedes the success that comes when you recognize that to fail does not mean you die. You fail, and yet you live. One breath feels like a miracle, the next like your last gasp. And yet you live, and you fail, and you continue down the road.
For the last few nights, no matter how long or far I've pedaled, I haven't slept well. I can't find rest. I keep waking up, many times each night, wanting the sun to be up, wanting to be on my way. I've been averaging around 70 miles a day, between six and seven hours on the bike, at least a couple thousand feet of climbing, and yet I cannot sleep more than five hours a night.
"Our hearts are restless until they rest in You," wrote Saint Augustine. Indeed. Rest in whom? "Via con dios," said a Mexican-American from Stockton, California who I met at the Bylas, Arizona rest area on the Apache reservation. Go with God. "You've got angels behind you on both shoulders," he told me. In a couple hours, light will come, and I will go. With the wind at my back or in my face, with angels on my two shoulders or alone and feeling like the most forlorn wanderer east of the Colorado and west of the Mississippi. I'll get on my bike and go east towards the New Mexican border. My plan is to go east until I smell that salty sea water again, in the swamps of Florida. And then what?
I started this trip a few miles inland from the Pacific, biked seven miles and close to 3,000 feet up route 9, and then down again back to sea level into Santa Cruz. From there I biked down the coast of California, riding through the strawberry country between Santa Cruz and Monterey, climbing high above the cliffs of Big Sur, riding under the palm trees along the sunny coast in Santa Barbara and L.A, and pedaling down past San Diego until I was a few miles away from Mexico. I decided against crossing the border and went east instead, climbing out of the San Diego area, away from the sea, up to around 4,000 feet, and then plummeting back down into the low Sonoran desert, riding beside seguaro cacti, feeling the desert sun hot on my back. From the low desert I climbed again to the high desert, and I'll do some more climbing once I get into New Mexico. Then I'll have the confront the gigantic mass of land that is Texas.
There is much more country to see. I love the southwest, but for now I'm heading east, with all I need on the back of my bike. I may want more than I have, may crave all I don't have, but in truth I lack nothing. Save the truth that will set me free? No, that is there too. That is here, too, and I'm on the road to find it.
"I think whoever I see must be happy," writes Walt Whitman in ‘Song of the Open Road.’ May I sing my song as I ride the open road. May I smell the happiness of juniper trees. May I take hold of this life and make it mine. My road, my life, my heart. I must find my heart, find where it sings and soars, where it weeps and groans, before I can give my heart away. I moan for man like Jack Kerouac. I weep for beauty like Everett Ruess. I'm clean and sober and learning to sing like the wind that brings me home, and I'm riding, yes I'm rolling, on down the open road.
February 19, 2016