A land of waking dreams
Shaped by swift water
Cold morning sun
Hot afternoon sun
Cool evening sun
A tapestry of stars
S I L E N C E
Thin lines drawn with rock and light and shadow
The wind a soft whisper
What is the source of our dreaming?
A hummingbird greets me in my afternoon walk
The raven coo’s at sunrise with joy
Sculpting, painting, drawing, throwing, shaping and molding.
Joy, sadness, despair, uplift, peace
Hot, harsh, sharp, danger
Cool stream, shadow, soft shapes, even fun, refuge.
I come as a witness, open, as a student or child
Let light reflect meaning off of me.
Then the dreaming can cross worlds
Be Real, Shape My World, Come Alive
“Silence. It’s rarely cited as a reason to go hiking, but it’s an increasingly valid one as our world grows louder.
Intrusive, irritating sound can damage more than your hearing. It contributes to rising blood pressure, declining productivity, and higher serumcholesterol levels.
Studies show that incessant noise makes people less caring, less communicative, less reflective; more apt to feel helpless and powerless. Even routine hospital noise impedes healing.
Ahhh, canyon country. It poses physical challenges that deter human visitation, so it’s among the loneliest landscapes on earth. And once your deep in, your walled off. Canyons are sanctuaries of silence. Temples of tranquility. Cathedrals of quietude.”
~Kathy & Craig Copeland, “Utah Canyon Country”
I am walking down a stretch of slick rock, winding between this and the sandy drainage in the small canyon below me.
I am alone and stunned by the beautiful desert scape of canyons and bushes and interestingly shaped rocks that surrounds me. I am having fun crossing this terrain, every foot step a creative endeavor.
I am tracing a path in my mind I have traced so many times. Over and over again, l am feeling my way through it, I am trying to understand.
What is my path in this world? Do I have a purpose? How do I realign myself with this deeper calling? How have I fallen out of alignment, even?
The desert is called the land of waking dreams and I’m asking it to help me understand. But the land isn’t one to offer quick answers, I feel like I need more time, years even. I only have about two weeks with this desert. But nonetheless I still ask.
A particular scene catches my attention, so much that I must stop my movement and sit for a moment. A cool breeze blows and I feel it in my hair, on my face. I am facing east.
C L A R I T Y
Silence, stillness, beauty, and calm. What a treat. If ever there was a state of mind where my dreams could reveal themselves to me and be understood it would be in this clarity, I think. I am facing east, where I am from. Will I go back home? Or will I stay out here? I don’t know. Just one of the many questions yet to be answered in my mind.
Must I be my own guide through this mess? I am asking for guidance…
I sat for maybe ten minutes, feeling the peace, the beauty, the sureness of the land. I try to align myself with this.
It’s time to walk back. This time I stay in the drainage and gaze at the shapes in the rocks and sand. Like always I trace this path in my mind back along with my footsteps. Today is not the day for answers, just questions. And yes, I can be patient and have faith to keep feeling my way. No I am not saddened by this. The path is the path.
The sun will soon set and nighttime will walk me in to my sleeping dreams. Then another awakening and the morning light will follow, beginning a brand new day. This path in my mind, in my heart, speak to me…what am I here to learn? Teach me. I want to echo this beauty throughout the entire universe.
“The Paleo-Indians were nomadic. Traveling on foot, carrying only a few meager possessions, they were the original ultralight backpackers. Along with their extended family-grandparents, siblings, children- they followed the seasons, always searching for food.
They wore clothing made of pelts and plant fibers. They slept in the open, took shelter in caves and canyon alcoves, or built rudimentary shelters out of brush and animal hide.”
~Kathy & Craig Copeland, “Utah Canyon Country”
a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.”
To live a nomadic life is to honor the roots of human nature. It’s an excursion in deepening ones respect for mankind. It’s an excursion in trust: trust of the unknown.
Living life as a nomad is hard. The modern life can be challenging, but it affords us so many conveniences that having known personally no other way of life we take our gifts for granted. But something inside us knows better, and is crying out for recognition…
This way of life requires one to tap in to a level of strength that they didn’t know even existed within themselves. Living off the land is a form of this also. A life without conveniences. This has a way of deepening ones reverence for the world and opening up our view to a vaster picture. When the unknown has revealed itself to us once the universe feels full of possibilities. One way for this to happen is through encountering challenges we didn’t know we had the strength to face until the challenge confronted us.
Of course another way of broadening ones perspective is having those profound experiences of awe and amazement at the wonders of the world. The nomadic way of life certainly brings these experiences as well. Waking up in a new place every day, often somewhere wild and beautiful and vastly different than where one came from, is a treat. Falling asleep under the stars in the canyons with distant lightning flashing on the horizon is another treat. Sipping a second cup of coffee while feeling the desert wind rock the van and staring out at endless canyons is also a treat.
This way of life, it shakes things up. One never gets used to too much around them before it is changing once again. It keeps ones view on life flowing, like the blood to ones head when taking a moment each day to hang upside down. In exploring large tracts of land one really starts to get a sense of the diversity that this planet offers; in its landscapes and its cultures.
I was reading about the history of the people who have dwelled in this area over the thousands of years prior to our own existence here. The early roots of civilization, probably unanimously across the globe, but certainly here, were nomadic peoples. It took many shifts and twists and turns throughout the ages before people stopped wandering and settled more in to villages and towns. From ancient cliff dwellings to pictographs and petroglyphs, the past is so alive in southern Utah.
I was recently wandering down a slot canyon, listening to the stream trickle beneath my feet and echo off the walls around me and watching the light shift form on the rock walls around me. I was feeling challenged. Where are we going to get water today, where are we going to sleep, how are we going to make money next, where even is all this ultimately leading us? Questions. I am tired. I haven’t showered for almost a week again and that’s an uncomfortable feeling in all this heat.
In truth maybe the reason I was feeling challenged had nothing to do with these specific concerns or conditions. It seems no matter what walk of life I choose I find myself confronting this sadness, this emptiness. Sometimes the world just feels heavy, and this is something I must walk with for some time.
Soon the beauty of the stream and the light woke me back up to how beautiful and enchanting this whimsical and twisting way of life Lydia and I are leading is. For a moment any fears dropped, any concerns dropped, and I was wandering in peace and reverence.
This is that deeper level of strength I talked about earlier. It comes as grace, as beauty, as understanding. It comes as refuge. Within any of the most challenging moments throughout my life never have these moments ceased to manifest and help me know I’m not alone.
In this moment of understanding I felt renewed purpose. A part of why Lydia and I chose this lifestyle was to shake things up. Both of us needed to refresh our perspective on the deeper picture of humanity, to deepen our respect for human nature and what humankind has endured and been uplifted by throughout the ages. Voices inside of both of us, the voices of our deep ancestors, needed to be heard. Maybe this way of life is acting as a medium for that right now.
How could humanity ever move forward without knowing and honoring where they came from and who came before them? How could we ever grow without hearing the messages of our ancestors?
So it’s with deep respect for the roots of humanity that we continue forward in Foxy and in this way of life. It is also with deep gratitude, as we both know that this lifestyle is a gift to us. How special it is to have the chance to explore our dreams in a way we both feel inspired by, and to be helped and supported by the individuals in our life who love us along the way.
Yes this way of life can be hard. Granted we don’t have zero conveniences. I doubt our ancestors had the ability to stop at the local health food store and cheer themselves up with a kombucha, a loaf of bread, and a chocolate bar when they were feeling down. Nonetheless it is with humble hearts and open minds, ready to listen, ready to learn, that we put one foot in front of the other each day and are thankful for our opportunity to be Foxy Nomads.
A word about this area…
“In 1908, the first Model T rolled out of the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. They ceased producing the revolutionary automobile in 1927 after selling 15 million of them. By then, people were driving all kinds of cars on paved roads throughout the world. Traffic and smog were growing problem.
But not in Boulder, Utah. The community was so tiny and isolated that, in 1924, residents’ mail still arrived on the backs of mules. To reach the lonely outpost, the mule train traversed a vast, turbulent expanse of slick rock (…).
Boulder is still small and remote. (…) Highway 12 wasn’t completed until 1940, this was the last place in the U.S. to gain automobile access, the highway wasn’t entirely paved until 1971, and this remains the farthest hamlet from a U.S. interstate.”
~Kathy & Craig Copeland, “Utah Canyon Country”
We have stationed ourselves this last week in between the small towns of Escalante, UT and Boulder, UT. Lydia is taking part in a plein air painting competition in the area, based out of the town of Escalante. We have been exploring the canyons in between these two towns, in a section of wilderness preserve called the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Thats where the inspiration for the writing above came from and where all the paintings Lydia entered in to the plein air painting competition came from.
Soon we will drive up to Hanksville, UT, a small town near the Henry Mountains. The Henry Mountains were the last mountain range to be discovered and mapped in the continental U.S. by white settlers. Once we leave there we will be spending our time exploring the Bears Ears National Monument, which was established as a national monument under the Obama Administration.
Recently the Trump administration cut Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in half and reduced Bears Ears National Monument by 80 percent, opening both areas up to destructive development and fossil fuel drilling and mining…
I wanted to share a portion of the writings by various authors I found compiled in a booklet by the local nonprofit “Utah Dine Bikeyah.” After spending the last week here, I feel compelled to spread some awareness about really how special it is and the harm that is being done by the current administration.
Establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument
by the President of the United States of America
“Rising from the center of southeastern Utah landscape and visible from every direction are twin buttes so distinctive that in each of the native languages of the region their name is the same: Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jaa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, or ‘Bears Ears.’ For hundreds of generations, native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and meadow mountain-tops, which constitute one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States. Abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, and countless other artifacts provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record that is important to us all, but most notably the land is profoundly sacred to many Native American tribes, including the Ute Mountain Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation, and Zuni Tribe.
The area’s human history is as vibrant and diverse as the ruggedly beautiful landscape. From the earliest occupation, native peoples left traces of their presence. Clovis people hunted among the cliffs and canyons of Cedar Mesa as early as 13,000 years ago, leaving behind tools and projectile points in places like the Lime Ridge Clovis Site, one of the oldest known archaeological sites in Utah.
The area’s cultural importance to Native American tribes continue to this day. As they have for generations, these tribes and their members come here for ceremonies and to visit sacred sites. (…) The traditional ecological knowledge amassed by the Native Americans who’s ancestors inhabited this region, passed down from generation to generation, offers critical insight into the historic and scientific significance of the area. Such knowledge is, itself, a resource to be protected and used in understanding and managing this landscape sustainably for generations to come…”
~Barack Obama, December 28, 2016
“On April 26, 2017, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order calling for a review of 27 national monuments. (…) Word out of Washington, D.C. suggests Bears Ears may be gutted by 80 percent with Grand Staircase-Escalante being cut in half, leaving fragile desert lands vulnerable to development. Utah’s record of exploiting our public lands from uranium and coal mining, to drilling for oil and gas, to the destruction of desert ecosystems by off-road vehicles, is a long and troubled history.
Bears Ears National Monument is the ancestral home of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe. These lands are where the “Old Ones” are buried, their medicines found, where their ceremonies are held. Established by Barack Obama on December 28, 2016, it was a handshake across history, helping to heal the wounds between the Tribes and the United States government. This is the first time a cooperative land management agreement has been reached between the Tribes and the federal agencies that will honor traditional knowledge alongside Western science.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was established by President Bill Clinton on September 18, 1996. The Proclamation recognizes ‘this high, rugged, and remote region, where bold plateaus and multi-hued cliffs run for distances that defy human perspective.’ It was the last place in the continental United States to be mapped.
Presidents have reduced previous monuments before, but never on this scale that Donald Trump is proposing. This will be a first. The Antiquities Act of 1906 will be on trial. If one monument is diminished, all national monuments are threatened. We the People, who recognize these lands as a ‘Geography of Hope,’ believe public lands belong to all people for all time. We fill fight this aggression in the courts and on the ground. We invite you to join us. Through the leadership of the Tribes, we as a community of protectors will prevail. The Elders remind us that this can no longer be about anger, but healing.”
~Fazal Sheikh and Terry Tempest Williams
by Terry Tempest Williams
“What is beauty if not stillness?
What is stillness if not sight?
What is sight if not an awakening?
What is an awakening if not now?
The American landscape is under assault by an administration that cares only about themselves. Working behind closed doors, they are strategically undermining environmental protections that have been in place for decades and getting away with it, in practices of secrecy, in deeds of greed, in acts of violence that are causing pain.
Like many, I have compartmentalized my state of mind in order to survive. Like most, I have also compartmentalized my state of Utah. It is violence hidden that we all share. This is the fallout that has entered our bodies; nuclear bombs tested in the desert-Boom! These are uranium tailings left on the edges of our towns where children play-Boom! The war games played and nerve gas stored in the West Desert-Boom! These are the oil and gas lines, frack lines from Vernal to Bonanza in the Uintah Basin-Boom! This is Aneth and Montezuma Creek-the oil patches on Indian lands-Boom! Gut Bears Ears-Boom! Cut Grand Staircase-Escalante in half-Boom! And every other wild place that is easier for me to defend than my own people and species-Boom! The coal and copper mines I watched expand as a child-Huntington and Kennecott-Boom! The oil refineries that foul the air and blacken our lungs in Salt Lake City-Boom! And the latest scar on the landscape, the tar sands mine in the Book Cliffs, closed, now hidden simply by its remoteness-Boom! Add the Cisco desert where trains stop to settle the radioactive waste they carry on to Blanding-Boom! Move uranium tailings from Moab to Crescent Junction, then bury it still hot in the alkaline desert, out of sight, out of mind-Boom! See the traces of human indignities on the sands near Topaz Mountain left by the Japanese Internment Camps-Boom!
President Donald J. Trump will try to eviscerate Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante Monuments with his pen and poisonous policies. He will stand tall with other white men who for generations have exhumed, looted, and profited from the graves of Ancient Ones. They will tell you, Bears Ears belongs to them-Boom!”
May wing beats of Raven cross over us in ceremony. May we recognize our need of a collective blessing by Earth. May we ask forgiveness for our wounding of land and spirit. And may our right relationship to life be restored as we work together toward a survival shared. A story is awakening. We are part of something much larger than ourselves, an interconnected whole that stretches upward to the stars.
Coyote in the desert is howling in the darkness calling forth the pack, lifting up the Moon.”
(To see the full publication which I pulled text from, visit fazalsheikh.org/news-stories)
We are a part of a bigger picture, it is true. More and more as I grow older I can see this. Time gives way to timelessness. The desert is an incredible stage for witnessing this bigger picture at play, outside of us and inside of us. Inside of us and outside of us. Spirit, like the breath, penetrating both worlds. We breath in the desert air and its inside of us, we breath out the desert air and we give something of us to the outside. The two worlds become one.
When we honor the earth the earth in turns honors us. If we are not able to treat our planet with respect that echoes in to everything. And vice versa.
We are newcomers to the desert here, though we both feel close to it already. Lydia and I have been blessed to have been welcomed so graciously by the earth here, and by the communities we have encountered in Escalante and Salt Late City.
The brother of a good friend of ours from Vermont happens to live in Salt Lake City and be a founder of Utah Dine Bikeyah, and one of the first ways we earned money when we crash landed in to Salt Lake City was by helping hang paintings and organize boxes of stuff in this nonprofit’s new office space. In the scheme of all the work this organization has done in protecting Bears Ears, this felt like a tiny effort, but nonetheless it felt so good for a short moment to be a part of what they are doing and what they stand for.
Down here in Escalante the painting festival and weekend farmers market were a great way to feel welcomed in to a small town community again, like the one we lived in in Vermont. We became quick friends with all of the people who work at the small health food mercantile in towns after coming in most every day from the desert heat for a cold kombucha. It all felt too much like home when the painting festival kicked off to some live music and one could hear the words “I am an old woman, named after my mother…” drifting from the stage.
We are excited to keep exploring southern Utah and to keep sharing. I hope these words are a reminder of how important it is to honor this desert, and in doing so honor ourselves.