A sparrow just flew through the hallway of the motel I’m staying. Around the corner there is a nest made of mud, and other such things, all gathered from what surrounds this structure. They have a distinct and majestic shape to their wingspan, as though drawn into the air by an obsessive illustrator. There is a piece of cardboard delicately waving to me as it sits amid plywood, sheets, and other pressed wood composites, I think it is an open-air storage space for the couple who run it. Last night’s rain couldn’t dampen it if it had tried, everything is preserved in the dry heat as am I.
I’ve written to you from this place before, this very chair, this very direction. I am facing South toward Mexico. The trees look hardy, the brick is painted salmon, the clouds puffy. You haven’t yet read the letter I wrote you. It was never sent. It was left behind in Vancouver, composed in Texas, transported through the air over the west side of America. Me and the letter flew over your apartment, over the hill you walked me to on one of my visits. I remember once that I’d written you a letter from a hospital lunchroom, and I remarked on the paintings hanging on the wall, then I fell asleep on a formica covered table. Dad was having fluid drained from his body.
Two days ago, I completed a portion of this journey from Vancouver, British Columbia to Van Horn, Texas. I’ve traveled back over three thousand miles. You’ve seen what pictures I’ve selected to include on social media. It felt good to share where I was, when I was, what I was, but not very much how I was. I posted to show evidence of, but there were so many reportages to include if I’d actually been able to convey the total of how I was, who I’d met, when I’d transformed. At some point, I began documenting less and less, it was about experiencing without the evidence. Evidence is necessary to prove occurrence, or so I’d thought, at least according to the law. The shadow space of interpretation is the blur of reality, the penumbra, so my friend E.W. taught me. There is nothing to prove in this moment of blur, but to let focus take its own time, a kind of interpretive trail of lines and looks. It is outside of intention, but residency is all intentional as though omnipresent in scope. It feels as I am an enclave. When I’d stop, I spoke less and less of art, and more and more of an homage. “I’m doing this for my dad,” I’d say. “I’m doing this because I felt like I had to.” “I’m doing this because life is as short as it is long.” My being an artist is a frame for a kind of experience, but is not the only frame from which to regard this residential space.
In Zion, I met L. She was waiting for her sister and her family. She and others were setting up camp in a group area in the Watchman campground at the park. I rolled up and began scoping out a tree to place my tarp and bivvy, and we began to talk. She asked me about my trip, and if I was traveling alone. I don’t tell everyone I meet the real answer to this question, but in this case I did. After about twenty minutes of chatting she told me that it was her birthday, that she’d been coming to the park for many years, and that she’d hiked every trail they had. After I stretched the tarp in its new setting, L and I sat at the picnic table and she gave me some tips about which hike was best if I was only staying the one night. I was ready to set out along with the other tourists, and take a shuttle bus up to the Narrows. The heat was pacing my ability to ride at certain times of the day, so a ride from another vehicle up the mountain seemed kind of nice. I offered that she might come along, and assured that I didn’t need to go alone, that she could head back when her family was set to arrive. Delighted by the idea, we walked along the Pa’rus trail to a different shuttle stop, as the line was an hour long. She told me about her work in the oil industry, trucks that vibrate the ground, tales of camping alone in the Utah wilderness, and hikes she’d done with her mother. L had never been married, never had kids, and did not intend to. She wore a brimmed hat, two scarves, long sleeves, long pants, and boots, her makeup just so, and had fair hair. We made it to the beginning of the trail for the Narrows, I wondered if I’d enough water, if I’d worn the right shoes, if I’d worn enough clothing, put on enough sunscreen… Looking up there were hanging ferns, and columbine flowers, the dryness had turned into delicate waterfalls, and a few squirrels crossed our path begging for tourist food. We met a mom and daughter, mirroring our own difference in ages. They had high-top water shoes, and wooden walking sticks. I asked the daughter about the trail, and she said I’d be fine in just my tennis shoes if I were careful. I hadn’t intended to walk through water, but as we were approaching my desire to do so became stronger. L was nearing her time to turn-around, and I decided to go further. We hugged, and promised to keep in touch, and thanked one another for the surprising companionship. (Thanks, L.) There were a mass of people of all ages, nationalities, heights, weights, and so on. Some were returning, some preparing to set forth, some in the midst of their steps through the Virgin River. This river cuts through the rock face, and has been doing so for more years than I could ever be able to fathom. I looked around, and shared smiles with others who were cutting through the water, my feet unsure of the rocks beneath the visible surface, I stepped deliberately and with caution, but with excitement and confidence. The day was hot, and the only consequence of falling would be for my body to become submerged in water surrounded by thousands of other people. I realized then, it was a pilgrimage. With each step, my smile enlarged, and the stress of the days previous ride began to wash away as fast as the river was moving past me.
Not two days before, I’d ridden into Cedar City, Utah, a red-rocked town where I’d almost given up. The anxiety of the wind, and heat had taken hold, and I felt sick. I threw up the morning I first attempted to leave town. It might have been brought on by altitude sickness, but it was nerves that altered me most. I’d been riding through wind, but these gusts were intended to be in the upwards of 36-40 mph in the heart of the day. It was also the morning I was to begin on an interstate, so I pulled it together as best I could. I set out, rode for twenty minutes on the I-25, and swiftly turned off of the first exit I could find. It was too much, my heart was racing, I felt unexperienced, I felt vulnerable. I wasn’t ready. When I turned off, I found a store that was run by the reservation, but appeared to be closed, maybe for a long time. There was an RV park up on the hill. I remembered the RV park and the nice people in central California, who’d taken me in when I neared heat exhaustion, inviting me to have a beer, swim, and eat oysters and ribs for dinner. They were joyful in my time of physical worry, but here, there was no one here. The wind was pushing me around like an emotional bully, and I hit my breaking point. I dismounted the bike and began to cry inside my helmet. I felt like I’d failed, as though my attempts to battle the wind could never prove triumphant. There was never going to be an agreement, never going to be a moment that the wind would let up, at least so it felt in that expansion of time. I looked at my map, called a loved one, and tried to figure out where I was. In that state of anxiety, simple navigation seemed out of reach. I sat on the concrete, and tried to breathe, drank some water, and eventually figured it out. What I had stumbled upon was an old highway, US 91. It had been constructed in 1926 and ran North/South through the country. I sighed with relief. I didn’t have to get back on the interstate to be sucked up, or blown out by some semi-truck, I could meander slowly, winding back on a highway that had had it’s hay-day in the late forties into the mid-sixties. So, I did. I rode directly back to the hotel I’d stayed the night before, checked-in again, and proceeded to process, and reticently hovered around the real anxieties that had been hiding in the pockets of this trip. It wasn’t just the wind, not just the heat, not only doing it alone, but a mass of experiences that had become stirred up, eagerly waiting to burst from my body like some comic book phoenix rising from the ashes. Only, I wasn’t ready yet to let go of that winged creature that has so mythically done well in stories up until now, not yet ready to see the renewing flames from which such a bird must emerge. A loved one talked me through, got me focused, and I began to let go.
I was walking. Walking through the Narrows, feeling the water reach my waist, absorbing the cool water that with soothing sensation suppressed the heat from my skin. It was rushing calm, a retreat from what would yet have to be done.
The next morning, I packed up and rode through a winding, and red landscape. I had breached and exited Zion in twenty-four hours, through a dark tunnel and illuminated skies I pressed on for the next challenge of facing mortality and poetry simultaneous. The morning road was kind.
J.D. I thought about your walks, and the way you pause in places that most would glide by. I have thought about your recall for words as they are associated with each image, the time we sat at Gene coffee in Vancouver, or the license plates you collect in your recognition. But, the walk I conjure most is the labyrinth, that dark place near a convenient store in Seattle. I’m glad that happened.
Until next time.