Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

In An Imperfect World

25th April 2011 by Paul

Do you have anything imperfect that you just love, regardless of the flaws?

Yes!” I can hear Helen say. And as she does, in my mind I can also imagine that slightly contorted look she’ll have on her face, as if to say “what a dumb question!”

But I’m thinking about my Merrel Arctic Chill boots. I bought them in Chita, about half way across far eastern Russia. The first time I put them on, they fit like a glove – no tight spots, and no excess space anywhere. They actually felt like I’d already worn them in for about a year. Then, about five weeks later, one of the top lugs used for lacing up the right boot fell off. Its been in my toiletry bag ever since, waiting for me to have time to fiddle it back on and fix it in place – probably with a rivet. Every morning, as I tie my boots, I’m reminded of the imperfection as I lace my right boot in a slightly different way to the left.

But do you know, I don’t mind one bit, because these boots feel wonderful on my feet, providing me with huge grip, warmth and comfort. I wouldn’t give these up for anything. Well, maybe not ANYTHING! But you’d have to come up with a damn good offer or threat.

Some things, no matter how imperfect, or damaged, or just not quite right, are forgiven. Because we love them. Other things have to work harder for that privilege.

Which got me thinking about imperfection, and how hard it is sometimes to see beyond it.

When Helen and I were stranded in Seattle, and the US Border Protection people seemed to be doing their damnest to make our life complicated and expensive, we fell into a routine way of thinking that focused on the imperfection of things. We certainly didn’t love U.S.B.P. very much!

We began complaining about what was going wrong, reciting the tale to whoever would listen. It was as if telling everyone would facilitate some kind of purging of the bad feelings. I guess we were after the sympathy vote, wanting people to acknowledge and validate our sense of intense frustration and injustice. We felt entitled.

But the more we talked about it, the more the venom rose, the more victimised we felt, the more miserable we became. And the more our resolve and resourcefulness fell away.

In those few troubled weeks, we completely lost sight of the fact that we had managed to successfully make our way across 20,000 kilometres of Europe, Asia and Russia. We forgot about the hundreds of days we had been surrounded by the mystery and perfection of nature. We forgot about the dozens of wonderful people who have shown us love and kindness, and who have enhanced our trip so far. We conveniently failed to remember the many well wishers at home who still regularly send messages of support, and are thinking about us often.

And in forgetting all this, not only did we succumb to the self made misery of living in the imperfection of things, but we disabled ourselves. We became incapable of seeing the way out – the way forward.

Then, one morning, in the shaddowy fog of half sleep just before my eyes registered the growing light of dawn, I became aware of the stupidity and pointlessness of it all.

Life IS imperfect. Some things are not right. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes things are so wrong that we can barely comprehend how we will survive. And there are even days when it seems our very principles are being violated. But here’s the thing. Allowing ourselves to be consumed by what’s wrong doesn’t help one jot.

There is always a lot to be grateful for. More so than not, I’m prepared to venture. Focusing on what is right energises us, gives us access to the resourcefulness we need to overcome the hurdles and obstacles of life. Focusing on what is wrong, strips that away.

So when I wake up in the morning, and lace my boots, I’m reminded of the importance of falling in love again each day – with myself, my life, with those I care about, and with my dreams – despite their flaws. And I resolve to take action on something that can make more right those things which are not right, yet.

I love my boots. And one day, maybe, I’ll fix that rivet.

The Wonder of All Things Great and Small

25th April 2011 by Paul

2011 01 29 (10) - Canyonlands - views from Island in the SkyLockheart Basin Trail, Canyonlands, Utah

This morning, as the blackness of sleep lifted from my mind and the feint awareness of day began to wash over me, I became aware that I should make a decision.

The teeth in my upper jaw ached.

All of them.

The frigid cold bit deep into my jawbone, making the nerves scream.   The exposed flesh above my cheekbones stung horribly, and each breath burned the inside of my nostrils.   The discomfort of waking had already visited me three or four times during the night, but now I could sense the early morning glimmer that heralded sunsrise.   But there was an hour yet before I needed wake Helen and begin the ritual of camp life in the cold.   So the decision had to be made.

Should I keep my upper face exposed and endure the discomfort, or bury my face inside the sleeping bag, where my breath would condense in the down fill, and freeze there, lowering the insulation?

Neither held much of a motivation for me, and in the end, I chose a halfway solution which, I suppose, was no decision at all.   Bury my face until my face warmed and the aching stopped, and then expose my flesh again until I could bear it no longer, then, repeat.

In the dark warmth of the bag, hood pulled tight around my face, I drifted into that place of creative half-sleep where great ideas seem to form.   I vascilated between the pragmatic and the idealogical – how to best design storage solutions on overlanding vehicles, and the kind of leadership the world would need to right some of its chronic social problems.

Later, as the sun warmed the tent, small droplets of melting ice water plopped intrusively onto my closed eyelids, waking me from my half sleep.

2011 01 30 (58) - Grand View Point, Island in the Sky, CanyonlandsI rose first, allowing Helen her customary ten minutes of ‘extra time’, and slipped on the chilled day clothes I had lain out carefully the night before to keep the draughts in the tent to a minimum.   I suppose it was the slight smell of woodsmoke from my clothes that awoke my sense of smell, and as I pulled on my trousers, I noticed a faint whiff of two-day-crotch, and resolved to change my underwear before I smelled any more like a feret hutch.

Swinging down from the tent, I unlocked all the doors, took the shovel and headed uphill towards a bluff, where the sand banked deeper, and I knew I’d stand a chance of digging a decent latrine.   A few minutes later, appropriately relieved, I took a few photos of camp as the rising sun began to cast its fiery glow on the mountains across from the canyonlands.

I wandered further afield, exploring the place we had camped in failing light the evening before.   The air was cold, but there was not a breath of wind nor a sound beyond the slight crunch of my own footseps

2011 02 04 (5) - morning views of campsite on Lockhart Basin RoadClambering over broken layers of Moenkopi rock formations, I ventured deeper into the canyon.   As I walked carefully between the rocks, my feet sank into the fine soft red sand eroded from the surrounding sedimentary rock layers, and over 15 million year old.   In places, the ground crunched underfoot, marking my sudden violation of a paper thin cryptobiotic crust that had taken a hundred years or more of microbiotic activity to form.

I became aware that I was in a sacred place.   A place so huge, and ancient, and remote from human life as to almost defy comprehension.   And yet a place so fragile, so untouched, so delicate in its ecology, that the evidence of my presence here would take two lifetimes to erase.

As the sky brightened and turned blue with the rising sun, I took two more photos in memory of my visit, and retraced my steps back towards camp feeling a little ashamed that I had stumbled so thoughtlessly through nature’s display of wonderous patience, perfect design, and harmony.

Turning to look out once more into the harsh, yet beautiful vastness of the desert, dancing red and orange in the early morning sun, with my mind half distracted by the thought of clean underpants, my soul danced and was uplifted by the wonder of all things.

Reflections on a Brief Respite at Indian Creek

25th April 2011 by Paul

As the golden sun sank slowly in the late afternoon sky and threatened to dip below the surrounding red rock hills, we pulled into Indian Creek, and nestled ourselves between two old fallen trees in time to catch the last of its warmth.

campfire cooking

campfire cooking

I soon had a fire started, and went about readying the pot while Helen chopped vegetables and sliced the beef that had become frozen in the back of the truck.  When the onions went in, the pot hissed and spat loudly and I had to stir quickly to avoid burning them.  Next, the meat went in, and was soon browned, seasoned and left to seal.  With a little water added, some garlic, salt and pepper, and with vegetables, and a stock cube crumbled in, the pot was left to simmer while we explored the brook that babbled past camp beneath an inch or two of ice.  The stream seemed unmoving, yet the sound of rushing water filled the air as the Indian Creek went effortlessly about the business of being a creek. 

Mediating on the river

Mediating on the river

We made long, perilous steps from rock to rock, in a giant game of stepping stones across the frozen ice, until we reached a flat rock where we could sit cross legged and contemplate the beauty of the place.  It was lovely, and a secluded spot where we could lose ourselves in thought.

How often do we really stop long enough to allow ourselves to be re-absorbed by the nature of all things?  As a child I recall spending long times fascinated by nature – allowing a slow moving caterpillar time to creep millimetre by millimetre up the whole length of my arm; watching a spider weave it’s whole web and then settle at its centre, in anticipation of it’s next meal; or lying face down in the long grass, chin on hands, watching the way the wind made the long blades dance, and smaller particles of vegetation quiver at their base.  

sparks fly

sparks fly

And yet, as we grow older, the busyness of life begins to push us along, until we truly are racing out of control towards the crash barrier at the end of it.  Life is best enjoyed slowly, it seems.  Yet we are often in such a rush to get things done, to cram so much in, that we are in danger of arriving exhausted at the end of it having endless regrets of what might have been.

“I don’t have time” is such a common excuse for being unwilling or unable to decide how to use each moment of this one prescious life we all have.

As darkeness came, we sat in silence back in camp, mesmerised as the fire danced around the pot, flames softly flopping and popping around the burning wood.  Occasionally, a knot would pop loudly, sending a flurry of glowing red embers skywards in the hot air as if in a rush to join the billion stars hanging glittering in the black sky above.  

cheers

cheers

The stew went down well, and the fire provided an entertaining backdrop to an evening of conversation about our journey so far, and what might become of us when it is all over.   In a place so still and quiet, so perfect, we remind ourselves that whilst our goals are important, and our resolve undiminished, it is ultimately how we travel that will determine our sense of success in the long term.

“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare…”