Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde, CO
They built their homes of stone and mortar into the sides of the cliffs.  The building was an exercise in patience - they had no metal tools, and used stronger stones to shape the weaker ones.  They did their work some 800 years ago - then left the area because it was time to go, so say the modern Pueblo people.

When they left, they left their spirits behind.  Even in the midst of the crowd of tourists, I swear I could feel their presence.  Some of the protected areas of the dwellings still show the marks of soot on the ceiling.  I can envision someone coming home to the welcome warmth of the fire after hunting in the cold, someone baking the daily corn tortillas to feed their family.

wall painting, Mesa Verde, CO

In one tower, you can see a picture left behind on a plaster wall.  It's simple, red on white.  To see it now, you must lean in and look up.  Then, there was a floor right there - it's just at the right height for wall art if one is sitting on the floor.  (The picture here rotated itself 90 degrees; it's feeling contrary this morning...)

Mesa Verde, CO
They were an agile people.  The dwellings are well-sheltered, but built halfway up (or down) the side of the cliff.  We tourists used sturdy ladders to get down to the site and then back up to the parking lot.  Next to the ladders, we could see the hand and foot holds they cut into the rock to get to the top to tend their crops (they farmed the mesa tops), and down to the base.  I'm sure they had a way to get the injured and less-able up and down, but the journey would not have been for the faint of heart.

Though the weight of time between the days the buildings were new and now was palpable, I wanted to meet them, the long-departed engineers and artists.  I admire their tenacity, their spirit, their love of beauty.

They stayed here just three generations.  It is said they left because there was a long period when the crops failed, and they moved on in search of a place where the corn would always grow.  (Obviously, they never got to Iowa!)  They abandoned their buildings and moved south and west to join the other Pueblo peoples.

I wonder who was the last to leave the village.  Did they linger and cast a longing look behind, or did they resolutely move forward, looking only to their new home?  I can only imagine.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Arches National Park

Arches National Park, Utah
Once I left Portland, I made my way south to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.

It's a place of wondrous beauty - people come to see it from all over the world.  I heard some Asian languages (I don't know enough about them to tell which is which), French, German, Spanish.  And it's not like this is an easy place to get to.  It's several hours from anywhere; I'm sure for many of those I saw, it was the trip of a lifetime.

There's a single road winding through the park - I must admit I'm glad I wasn't there during peak tourist season.  As it was, many of the parking areas were close to full, and they don't allow you to park outside those lots.  (for good reason; the desert environment is fragile.  Several million feet going everywhere would quickly destroy the beauty.)  Which means, as the road turns into a twenty mile long parking lot during the busy times, you can't stop and admire and take pictures at every pullout.  I'm not much into crowds in remote places.  It's probably a good thing I went as late in the fall as I did.

I read all the literature about how science tells us the arches came to be.  They said the sandstone washed down as gravel over an ancient sea bed and compressed into rock over millenia.  The wind and rains came, the salt eroded away and left the sandstone behind in the form of arches.

I have an explanation I like better.  I think God is into beauty (sure made a lot of it in this world), was experimenting one day, and things worked together just right.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Rose Garden, Portland, OR
How do I spell love?

I've felt it in so many ways on this trip.

Before I left, a friend gave me a care package for the road.  Chocolates and a t-shirt and a book to meditate with and a journal and a bubble wand.  (I haven't had a bubble wand in YEARS!).  I was touched beyond words.

I felt it from my family in Minnesota, who changed their plans around to accommodate my schedule.  As they always do when I show up, they opened their homes and their hearts.

I felt it from the couple who loaned me their ladder and glass cleaner and helped me clean the remains of the North Dakota bugs off my van.  (This was no small matter - I've never seen bugs spatter like those bugs did; they not only got the windshield, they managed to dirty the front foot of the side windows.)

One night, at a KOA in eastern Washington, I pulled in just for a place to stay.  I exchanged a few words with the gentleman across the way; turned down the offered drink; I was tired.  The next morning, as I was getting ready to leave, there was a knock on the door.  Would I like a piece of fresh banana bread for the road?

I felt it from Tim, quietly mapping out options for my first night after I was to leave them in Portland; he noted down a couple of options he was sure I'd like.  (and I did...)  I felt it from Jane, emptying her fridge to make sure mine was stocked as I left them.

From the couple in central Kansas.  Again, it was the end of a long day's drive; they were in the campsite next to mine.  They gave me a drink and invited me, a stranger, to dinner.

And from my son, when I got home, cheerfully making trip after trip to help me unload the world's largest travelling suitcase.  And from the friend, sure I wouldn't want to head back out to the store after I'd finally made it home, who brought over some milk and produce to tide me over for a few days.  And from the friend who always takes a minute to send a kind word about almost every blog post.

Love Is.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Ocean

Cannon Beach, OR
It seemed a shame to go all the way across the country to Portland and not go the last two hours to the coast.  The weather inland was unseasonably warm, so I had very little trouble convincing my friends to play hooky from their Saturday chores and drive me to the shore instead.

I had a wonderful time.  Since I wasn't driving, I was able to look around at the beautiful scenery to my heart's content.  The sky was a perfectly clear blue until we got within a mile of the shore.  Marine layer, they told me.  I'd heard of the phenomenon, but had never experienced it.  The temperature within the embrace of the fog was at least fifteen degrees colder than it had been a mile inland.  amazing.  Fortunately for me, they had warned me of the possibility and I had brought along my jacket.

The cool damp fog dampened my enjoyment of the beach not one whit.  We spent some time walking along the shore, stopped to eat the lunch they'd so thoughtfully packed us, then headed up the coast a ways to see if the layer would lift.

Astoria, OR
We stopped twice more.  Once at St. Steven's park to see the remains of a shipwreck (notable in that all made it to shore alive), and again in Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia river.  Jane and I talked pretty much non-stop the entire way - it had been several years since I had last seen her, and we had a lot to catch up on.

We made it back to Portland in time for dinner; they treated me to dinner at one of Tim's favorite sushi restaurants.

Let's see.  They gave up a Saturday, drove, packed lunch, knew the best places to stop, and also provided dinner.  I provided my charming company.  hmmm...  Feeling mighty loved, I am.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Books and Roses

Travelling to remote places is wonderful fun, but I must acknowledge it doesn't necessarily make for good internet access.  I've had the best time the last two weeks, and I've been writing blog entries in my head as I drove; now it's time to put some of my thoughts on paper before they just flit away.

My Portland friends invited me to stay around for a few days, and I was thrilled to take them up on the offer.  While they were working, I made some grand plans to visit the rose garden there, and also bury myself for a while at Powell's bookstore.

Turns out to do both in one day was a tad bit ambitious on my part.

Portland Int'l Rose Garden
Despite the mid-day traffic clogs (why aren't those people at work where they belong?), I had no trouble getting to the Portland International Rose Test Garden.  It's a beautiful oasis of flowers in the midst of the city.  I got out of the van intending to stay for 30 minutes; just time to take a few pictures.  Almost two hours and I'm not admitting how many photos later, it was too late to get to the bookstore without getting caught in rush hour traffic and missing dinner.  I didn't really mind - the flowers were beautiful.  I took pictures, I sat, I people-watched - I had a lovely time losing track of time.

Portland, OR
So, the bookstore fell to the next day.  I slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, and headed for downtown Portland and the best bookstore I've ever wandered into.  Powell's New and Used books has one of each.  They have the new books shelved with the used.  On the end caps, they have lots of staff recommendations; and if you want to sit down to read a bit - or all - of a book, they have a handy-dandy coffee shop.  (they do ask you to limit your selection within the coffee shop to five books, and if you spill a bit as you're reading, that you purchase the item.  fair enough.)

After spending an hour or two wandering the bookstore, I headed down the street to Kenny & Zuke's, home of a to-die-for Reuben sandwich.  Once I'd finished stuffing my face, I went back to my friend's house for a quiet afternoon with a good book by a new (to me) author.

Finally getting the hang of this stop, breathe, relax thing!

Thursday, September 4, 2014


Mt. Hood, Oregon
Another day, another drive.

Today, I was tired.  Instead of staying where I was, which was driving along the Columbia River Gorge along the scenic Route 14 through Washington, my mind kept falling back to all I left behind - the projects at home and school.  My GPS didn't like the drive either; it had problems with my route.  It didn't think I could get to Portland along that road; it kept flashing 'replanning' for the better part of two hours. It's a little eerie when your electronics are thinking along the same lines you are...

It was a beautiful drive.  Eastern Washington state is like the other high prairies I've seen.  Golden brown in the sunlight; few trees, great views.  The river ran along my left side; I could often see the traffic on the freeway across the water, going faster than I was, avoiding the climbs and dips of the road I traveled.  Fast wasn't the object of my drive, however, so I stayed where I was.

The switch from prairie to forest along the gorge is sudden.  No trees, no trees, no trees.  A few trees (where did they come from?), more trees, all trees.  And the trees here are beautiful.  Obviously not subjected to the killing ice storms of Kansas City, they grow gracefully tall and stately, providing shelter, protection from the winds, and shade.

The bonus at the end of the day was an evening spent reminiscing with my college roommate and her family.  She and I have one of those friendships that picks up as though distance never got in the middle whenever we get together.  We skip freely from recollections of events thirty years ago to those of last week and random points between.  A few years ago, she and her husband and youngest son stopped by in Kansas City.  Tim and Aaron went off sight-seeing, leaving us alone to catch up on each other's lives.  Aaron was a bit amazed - "whatever will they talk about for three whole hours?"  He needn't have worried.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Driving Through Beauty

Glacier National Park
I drove today through beautiful mountain passes.

The clouds and sun played with light and shadow, highlighting hillsides and shading the passes ahead.

I felt a wrench in my chest as I left the road behind.  As always, I wanted to capture the moment; stay in the beauty.  I didn't want to leave.  But life has taught me there is no way to stay in any moment.  Good or bad.

So, I reluctantly kept driving, knowing I may never pass this way again.  I will try to hold the pictures in my mind, but know I won't be able to.  **sigh**

As I drove, I was listening to retreat tapes made by Fr. Richard Rohr in the mid-80's, loaned to me for the drive by one of the Sisters, who works at Cristo Rey.  The message wasn't dated - spirituality hasn't changed much in just thirty years.  He spoke of faith and caring for God's creation and loving ourselves before we can love others; the messages resonated with the scenery.  The combination made for a contemplative drive.

I could use more such days in my life.

Stop.  (I didn't do enough of that.  again!)  Breathe.  Relax.