I sit inside drinking hibiscus coolers, refrescas; while the immense heat fills the bright land. It is shades of jagged burnt ochre, hued by the occasional cerulean green vegetation that hugs the land close. The view distant and vast. This landscape is as far from what I am most familiar as it gets. The dry air sucks the moisture right out of your mouth, your eyes even. The immense sun with no humidity as a barrier. But, as soon as you get in the shade it is pleasant.
I am coming from the Good Medicine Confluence in Durango, Colorado, where I convened with old and new herbalist friends to re-enliven our herbal practices, plant connections, learn new skills, as well as reevaluate our social roles in relationship to plant based medicine. A place to be your weird and unconventional self, as Wolf Hardin, one of the organizers explains during opening, closing speeches and in his and Kiva's class on the subject. I feel a renewed sense of inspiration that the way I want to do things, albeit untraditional, is not necessarily crazy. It may be just the right way for me to do things. To connect people, places and ecologies together in a way that is mapped out in my mind. I am surprised I had never taken a class with Guido Mase as well, a teacher for VCIH in Vermont, and the founder of Urban Moonshine. The last class I took on the last day was his work on connecting human ecologies with land ecologies, ultimately making the argument via mysticism and math that we are not separate from nature. The way his words bring things together resonates in my mind and reverberates out into the lands I traverse. When we feel a sense of awe, it is mathematical even. Our nervous systems respond to patterns in nature, to the numbers that trees or flowing water signal to us. Doing something as simple as drinking a cup of herbal tea daily, however small a ritual, flows that sacred response through us, and helps to make change incrementally in the right direction, heart first towards the land and our species-long love affair with it. We also discussed the complex relationships humans now have with the outdoors; some don't like it, some don't have access to it, some have trauma in relationship to it like many POC (Person of Color) communities. How then do we promote health and wellbeing without trying to convince someone that 'this is best' for you? Meet them where they are at. Work on trauma first. Step back, listen.
camping outside of durango, CO:
I rolled into Moab today, to visit Emily of Sundial Medicinals, on my way up to Idaho. We met at the conference and immediately hit it off. She has an herbal practice and wholesale apothecary here in Moab, and surprisingly one of the only herbalists in town. She was born and raised here and has an intimate connection with this land and community. I am inspired by her business, by her gentle style and encouragement. Today, she took me to a locals swimming spot during the heat of the day, tucked down in a tiny riparian canyon. The water was a perfect temperature, not too hot or cold, and just enough to give me a chill as I lay out on the dusty red rocks to dry off. The river has its own ecology, as it is especially different here. Willows, Cottonwoods, Elaeagnus and a plant that reminds me of Tule hug our swimming hole. Species that need abundant water to live. I am reminded of Dara Saville's class at the Good Medicine Confluence on the risk that riparian plants in the desert face when the earth warms as I sit in cool waters to find respite from the immense heat. This desert is projected to warm eight degrees in the next 100 years or so. Water is precious here, I realized this too as I woke this morning parked on the La Platas up high outside of Durango. The tank that connects to my sink went empty. Although I had some backup water, running out here is no joke. It is no joke for the plants that depend on water too. Despite this, there are just simply too many people in the desert, and many of them don't use water wisely. This paired with growing temperatures and some normal drought patterns, things are changing rapidly.
Emily and I biked around town at sunset like the young hearts we are. Once the sun goes behind the horizon, the place opens up with life.
Emily of Sundial Medicinals' herb gardens right in the heart of Moab town:
Meadowsweet, johnny jump-ups, nettles, passionflower, tulsi, california poppy, calendula, lavender are just a few of the herbs Emily grows for her working apothecary.
Skip ahead to a few days later and a lot of things have happened. A couple more days in Moab proved to be exhilarating and exhausting. The Crofts called me and told me I didn't need to come up to Idaho quite as quickly as I had previously planned, so I decided to stay longer and explore Canyonlands National Park. It really wasn't the most ideal time to be boondocking out in immense wilderness, especially without proper preparation. We were in a heat wave topping temps of 112 or more. I was astounded by how many people were still out there, especially older folks who are either lifelong adventurers or retired and living the RV dream. Not many trees live in this landscape, and the ones that do; usually Pinyon or Juniper, aren't big enough to provide a ton of shade from the hot sun. I went back to the swimming hole that Emily showed me and decided to hike up the canyon, jumping in the river every five minutes or so. I would be practically dry within that time. It was a trip for me, the south can get this hot, but the way you deal with it seems different here. You have to be careful. Sweat evaporates as soon as it is on your skin, and you don't realize how dehydrated you are. The difference between the shade of the creek and the harshness of the sun uphill from the water is like night and day. Forget not wearing a hat.
I set out to camp in Canyonlands, and went looking for a campsite on BLM land outside of the park. It was evening, but the sun was still immensely hot, and a windstorm was whipping up in the distance, looking like a perilous squall, but with no rain. Being up on the Island in the Sky, you feel exposed, yet on top of the world, looking out onto such monumental geological history.
I had the intuition that I needed to set up near people, rather than away to myself. I tend to go through different facets what it is I think I am doing: self-imposed solitude because I need it or just trying to prove that I can: maybe it is a little of both. Sometimes we are just better off letting go of the ego behind our intentions and listen from a different place. I decided to set up camp further down from the highlands, and next to an older couple I saw sitting outside in their florescent lawn chairs enjoying the sunset.
Single white men, which is predominately what you see out here, is what I steer from. Families, older couples, I gravitate towards.
The next morning, already sweltering heat by 9 am I set out to make a late breakfast and clean up my camper. Suddenly, I hear a 'shhhhhhhh.....' sound.
Shit. Is it my propane tank? I wonder.
I jump out of my camper and run around the side where the sound is coming from and I see the valve on my problem tire swollen up like a mini water balloon and letting out air like there is no tomorrow. I panic, I go grab electrical tape from my toolbox, as if taping it up would actually help. I spin the leathery black tape around the valve, it helps a little, and eventually the air slows down its spewing, not without significant air loss in my tire.
I wasn't going anywhere. It is already 90 degrees out. Great.
I'm going to have to ask for help.
I walk over in constrained tears to the older couple. I tell them what happened. They graciously offer to help. They have an air compressor, and tons of tools. They are experienced boondockers. They've lived their whole lives exploring remote terrain unafraid. They tell me they had a tire shred in the immense heat a few days before and had to replace it on a busy highway on a slope. They're in their 70's. Leonard had COPD. They're both tan and have blue eyes. They tell me they are nudists and seek out hot springs where they can be naked. Far from Lenoard's baptist upbringing in Oklahoma City, he says. I grew up baptist too, I tell them. And also like swimming naked. They tell me they own an RV park in Arizona, where they live half the year with a pool and a hot tub. So their friends can visit them. I am welcome any time.
We try putting air in the tire. The pressure of the tire is too high for the compressor. But, we realize that it may not be safe to fill it back up and try to get to Moab to fix it. We go for the spare tire. We can't get it out because my tailgate is down because of my camper, and this is something I did not think about when preparing to be on the road. I am feeling foolish. I was so focused on the solar panel I installed, and doing the electrical work needed for the setup, that I neglected to consider things like, what would happen if I had a flat tire. A big damn deal.
Then Leonard suggests we take the tire off and take it to town in their truck, they were going anyway to use the internet.
The southern humidity has rusted things, so it takes a minute and a lot of effort to loosen the lug nuts, but they're off. We jump in the car, in the A/C. Leonard takes a break to breathe, with his COPD and all. We drive to town, and talk about our lives. I try to chill out, as I just really stressed myself out with the whole situation.
I text Emily asking where the tire place is. We go straight there. A cross-eyed 25 year old short haired blonde boy covered in motor oil replaces the valve in five minutes. Straight out of a David Lynch movie. He doesn't charge me. But he says slyly, 'I take tips, but it's not necessary..' I hand him five bucks. It should have been more. I feel saved.
The couple takes me to McDonalds. That's where they use the internet. They buy my iced tea, offer to buy me breakfast, but I just can't bring myself to eating McDonalds food. We sit and use the internet, enjoy the cool air and talk about the tire and how it is fixed. They discuss their grandchildren. How it is 120 degrees in Arizona and their friends tell them not to come home any time soon via Facebook.
After 20 minutes we are back on the road. We drive back up to the BLM campsite, I get incredibly nauseous on the way. Maybe its the tea, or the stress, or the curvy roads.
We replace the tire, and just like that, I am ready to go and head to Liz and Garrett's place in Heber City. Its nearing 105 out, at noon. They leave and head down a crazy road to the big river below to be in the shade for the heat of the day, leaving their RV at the BLM camp.
I hit the road nervously and reflect on the kindness of strangers. My mom always instilled in me a fear of strangers and the outside world growing up: fear driving in cities, on the interstate. Fear of going out in nature alone as a female assigned person. I know she instilled in me these fears for my own safety. Here I am rebelling against all of that much to her dismay, and I am sure I don't help her nervous system these days. Yet, the fears I had were over the top and keeping me from really living life to the fullest. It helps that I had friends that road trains and hitchhiked and I admired their bravery.
I don't want to be held back. I don't want to be dumb either.
Here, I was dumb. I admit it.
I realize I need to think through all the scenarios. Trust in intuition always. It's there for you. That's something that I never considered when I reveled in the fear of the unknown, that your intuition blossoms in those wild spaces. It guides and leads. Yet, you can't predict everything. The key is not to panic. Alone in the ocean with a sunken ship, panic kills. Or in the desert with a flat tire. Problem solving. Asking for help.
I felt raw. Vulnerable. On the edge of tears; for joy and for sadness. I needed to get out the panic and the stress and the gratitude. It makes me think about how I don't show love easily sometimes. How that's ridiculous. 'It's our German blood,' Mabel Jane explained this Christmas. Cold and unemotional was my great grandpa Alfonso. Every generation, the coldness dissipates a little more with work to show care.
I land at Garrett and Liz's place in Heber City. They live up on this mountain outside of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. I interned with them both at Stonewall Farm in Keene, New Hampshire back in 2009 and 2010. They weren't dating then, and we spent many a day bent over in a field weeding with Amanda and Sarah, our badass bosses at the time. Garrett was the only male-assigned person in the group and handled our girl farmer gang well. Liz was a do-er: a chainsawer, firefighter, farmer, amazing skier. Flash forward many years, they now live in Utah near her family and have twin one year olds. Seeing them brought back memories. Gave me perspective on how families can look, cause I tend to reject the married and kids story for myself. The air cooled down. I slept good looking out onto their immense view of Heber City and the snow-topped mountains beyond. The plants: thistles, mariposa lilies, lots of borage family plants I don't know, scrub oaks.
I head towards a national forest camping area I found on freecampsite.net. A saving grace of a website, looking like something out of the 90's. I love it.
I land at Stoddard Creek Campground in southern Idaho tucked in a forest of Douglas Fir and Aspens. The last spot available was right next to a clutter of big RV's, all lined up too close for what would be a normal camping set up. As soon as I step out of the truck, I see a cluster of men standing next to their four-wheelers looking at me. They're in american flag t-shirts, army style hair cuts. I am not sure whether to feel uneasy or at ease. There are blonde children on bikes. The kids ease me. They're having fun. I walk over and ask them if this campsite is available. I saw their family reunion sign at the entrance. I ask if that's what they're doing.
"Yes! That site is totally available. Make yourself at home. Come have s'mores with us later if you'd like. We actually just finished eating tacos if you want any.' The 'bishop' as I learned later immediately tried to make me feel comfortable.
'Sorry if we keep you up tonight!'
I put on my pink patched up dirty Carhart coat for protection. It makes me look tough. Maybe. Hood up. Protect the head from energetic poison.
After setting up, taking a walk down a path filled with Indian Paintbrush, Balsam Root, Bitterroot, Camas, and tons of plants I don't know, I come back and decide I should just say yes, and take them up on their offer. I walk over, and their dog freaks out at me, and I tell them I'd love a taco. The 'bishop' takes me over to a picnic table where all the women are hanging out. They're so nice. They get all the taco fixings out. I see cookies, multi-colored rice crispy treats. We start to talk about where they are from, where I am from. They tell me they are Mormons.
"You're here sittin' next to a bunch of Latter Day Saints." the bishop says, after I told them I had a degree in Philosophy and Religion.
I ask them what 'wards' are. What a bishop does. They talk about the health problems of their children. One has stomach issues. One has clubbed feet. One has slow reaction time. One woman mentions that her kid likes to eat dandelions in the yard, and she doesn't spray them cause she knows he won't stop.
Interesting. I think a lot of things to myself. The kid is self-medicating. The kid knows what's best.
"He eats a lot of wild things," she says.
He is 10. He is obsessed with survival skills and being outside. I think of Guido's class, of our different ways of connecting to the land. Of our innate response to certain things in the environment.
These folks live for family. They have lots of kids. Being married is what life is all about. Men do this, women do that. But, they get together every year, even grandma, and camp out and go four-wheeling in the mountains together. They love camping in the woods. They live by all this public land. We talk about how crazy it must be for east-coasters to not be able to go out and explore public land.
"Where do people hunt?" They ask. Hunting is big out here. There are lots of big animals to hunt. Eating wild meat is the norm.
"People hunt on private land," I say. You have to know somebody.
I think about how different these people probably are from me. Politically, spiritually, socially. I don't bring up politics. They talk down the federal government. We ID the trees. Talk about taking care of the elderly. They're nice to me. We have a good time. They said that they like to invite people into their family reunion to meet new and different people they wouldn't have otherwise. I am trying to say 'yes' more to people who are different that me, or who I perceive are different, to hear about their lives and consider the humanity of their world.
Divisions and broad assumptions get clouded in interactions like these. Find commonalities. I am used to 'american flag wearing rednecks' more like 'confederate flag wearers' where I am from. There's plenty of bigotry out there. But not every single person falls across a clear black/white line. Meeting people where they're at, talking about finding a way to relate, changes us both for the better.
We fear that which we don't understand. People tend to want to hate people who don't speak the way they do or believe in god the same way they do. Yet, in my experience, getting in a theological conversation about spirituality, or religion with someone different, we realize that we might actually believe the same things, but in different ways. In those moments, the unknown is released and the humanity of another is revealed. These conversations are complicated and I have so much more to say about them and the complexity of divisiveness in our society today in the age of globalization.
Yesterday, I head north, through the geological and botanical wonder world of eastern Idaho and Western Montana. I land in Missoula to do city errands before I head to the Crofts to tan hides, makes books and bone tools. I am trying to take it all in, reflect on the kindness of strangers, of the beauty of the lands I traversed. I slip silently into a community I do not belong, become one of them for the day. I people watch in a place where people are living their lives. And then I'll move on today. To the next place, the next adventure, and see what it brings.