We spent our final morning hours in Moab scrambling around the canyons looking for the Birthing Rock petroglyph. We stumbled upon the Moonflower Canyon petroglyphs as well. There's something really powerful about seeing the graffiti originators' sacred symbols etched on rock, communicating with visual art instead of words. A deep feeling of the past appears in the present and reverberates ancient truths that are relevant to what is at the core of all of us no matter the time or place. It's not something that photographs can communicate - you can only feel it by being in the sacred space.
As we drove towards Arizona, we were greeted by the grand structures in Monument Valley. It doesn't matter how many places I've been or how often I experience them - I am still always in awe of (and my soul feels such peace in the presence of) these natural wonders. There is something to be said about the marvelous feat of man that is my old stomping ground of NYC, but I don't think anything man has made can even come close to places like this. The very fact that is was not made by man is part of the magnificence.
In the middle of our drive, something in my gut told me I needed to stop at this one particular Native jewelry stand. I had no money to buy anything and no particular reason to stop there other than the fact that I knew I had to. Thankfully I was traveling with a wonderful creature who understands and respects the power of intuition so we were able to flow with the forces and meet the self-proclaimed Born Again Indian.
A little less than a decade ago, when I was studying photography in NYC, I took my first cross-country trip. It may not have been a long, sprawling adventure filled with spontaneity and exploration, but it was a wonderful introduction to the immense beauty of the changing landscape from one end of North America to the other. It also fed my lifelong road trip addiction. I will never forget the power the land held over me, the Southwest especially. When we reached New Mexico, I could feel the souls of all those who had come before me and was enraptured.
I felt a calling to come back to these lands and spend an extended amount of time living there and photographing the Native culture and that feeling never left me. Over the years, I wondered how (and when) I would find the opportunity to spend time there doing something good in the community and build a relationship of trust and respect that would allow me to remove any barriers that might keep me on the outside. Now on my third cross-country jaunt, those seeds that were planted back then began to sprout...
We walked into the Navajo Nation Shop and just began talking to the owner about life and how things came to be the way they are. Most reservations I'd been on at this point were full of fast food chains, casinos and seemed so far disconnected from the beliefs of the Native peoples that have drawn me to the culture and earth-based spiritual beliefs many times throughout my life. I needed to understand more about this disconnect.
Alfred told us about all the issues with reclaiming the land. The Native people who lived here long before any of us don't ever get to own any of the land. Because the government holds it in trust, they are not allowed to develop it however they want which leads to a lot of economic hardship. There is a Native American government of sorts, but it's essentially a puppet government of comprised of figureheads and because it's so difficult to get anything done, they are often referred to as 'The Longest Red Tape' by the people who try to make positive changes.
We also learned a lot about his plans for the art & culture center at Monument Valley that was in the middle of construction. They are trying to change tourism in the area into a more authentic experience, where people can learn more about the ancient ways and get to experience more than just shopping. Local artisans would be shifting from their roadside stands to an actual arts center where everyone could connect and build community.
As the conversation shifted to spirituality & Catholicism, we talked about 'In the Absence of the Sacred' and 'God is Red' for awhile. Alfred told us that he was a "Born Again Indian" because he realized that for so long, he was pushed to not like what he is and now he is seeing the truth.
I noticed a bluish ring around his eyes, similar to what you see in older diabetics so I asked him if he had diabetes. He said that his eyes had just always been like that, but the conversation shifted to talking about health & food so I told him about my intentions for this trip.
We talked about Hopi dry farming for a bit and then he told me about a man in town who I should connect with who shared my interests. He set up free organic meals at the community center in town every Tuesday at 5pm and was trying to create a sustainable food program in the area using dry farming & hydroponic gardens. He wasn't sure if the hydroponic gardens were a good idea or not, I think because it's not fully in harmony with nature.
Here the idea began to come together in my mind of doing some service work in the Native lands to help educate the people and bring back the Native diet. Diabetes, obesity, heart problems, alcoholism and domestic abuse are huge issues on every reservation I've been to so far and while I know it will take more than just food to remedy these issues, I can't help but think that helping the people empower themselves by returning to a healthier natural diet will help them start to regain their sense of self and clear their minds to live differently. I'm not sure what this will lead to, but something is definitely taking shape.
I got Alfred's contact information so I could keep in contact with him and help manifest this project, whatever it turns out to be. I also want to be able to spread the word about the art center he is creating, as the arts have been such a big part of my life.
The days make no sense anymore and don't matter. I am living pure bliss in every moment and love the freedom of living on my own time and how that allows everything to take shape right before my eyes.
In addition to the Love Muffin Cafe, there are a few other places in town anyone seeking healthy eats should know about.
One of them is The Good Place, a delicious juice bar & yoga studio that also offers massage & meditation. They custom made me my favorite green juices every morning, and also had a whole list of their own juice creations, smoothies, and several other raw items, as well as some healthy cooked eats. The owners and their baby are 3 of the happiest, glowing people I have ever seen. They were also extremely friendly and welcoming, and let us use their wifi for ages.
My favorite place in town was Moonflower Market, and it wasn't because of the food. Yes, they had a nice small selection of fresh, beautiful organic produce and other goods, and an amazing wall full of herbs to be purchased in as small or as large quantities as one's heart desires. Yes, they held educational events on food, nutrition, & healing, they petitioned to get the natural spring opened back up to the public, and they had an amazing selection of books (I kept eyeing Plant Spirit Medicine each time I walked in and finally caved and bought it on the last day!) but that wasn't why I loved it so much. The real treasure of Moonflower was hidden around a back corner of the store where it seems most people never even bother to venture. Lucky for me, I have always been overly curious (it's the gypsy explorer in me) and discovered the Moonflower Lending Library...rows and rows of books on health, nutrition, healing, food, fitness, gardening, permaculture, alternative building, environmental issues...some of them so old and rare, I bet they were out of print. Our time in Moab was chock full of activities so I didn't get to spend much time here, but it definitely added more fuel to my daydreams of coming back to live in the area for a few seasons and play in nature.
Another wonderful thing about Moab is the Youth Garden Project. I highly recommend volunteering some time there if you ever have the chance. They offer volunteer opportunities in teaching, garden maintenance, construction, and special events, and for each hour you volunteer, they give you $5 of fresh produce. The Youth Garden Project started in Sarah Heffron's backyard as a program offered to the Juvenile Court for youth to work off court-ordered community service hours. After an AmeriCorps Grant, the garden began to expand and offer more programs and apprenticeships, eventually moving to two acres of land next to Grand County High School so they could better serve the community. They offer sustainable agriculture workshops and even have a community kitchen where they teach kids how to cook nutritious & delicious meals. The YGP also organizes the Moab Farmers Market, which wasn't in season when we were there, but would be a great place to pick up organic goodies if you find yourself there in the summer.
I could seriously spend a few seasons in Moab and still never get to explore everywhere I want. We only had a few days and lots to see, so in addition to Negro Bill Canyon, we went on a gorgeous hike out to Corona Arch and then spent an entire day hiking around Arches National Park. This was by far one of my favorite playgrounds so far! We went on a few amazing hikes, and then went to watch the sunset over the rainbow-colored mineral-rich earth. It was divine. These pictures don't do it justice because they were taken with my old spy pocketcam, but when this journey is over, I'll develop all my film and post those photographs up on my Flickr page.
(Spiritual fortune cookie in Cameron's car.)
I am really behind on blog posts, and writing this far after the fact definitely makes me skip over details and write with less enthusiasm, so I apologize. These next few posts are going to be less personal than normal, just for the sake of playing catch up. Lesson learned: do not try to blog while traveling unless you own a laptop or an iphone.
After our pit stop in Escalante, we drove until we arrived in Moab, Utah where we stayed for several days...
The first day, I needed some alone time to read and experience my own reality, so I went to the Love Muffin Cafe and ended up having a really great conversation about medicinal herbs. I've gotten really into picking my own herbs and making tinctures in the last year, and want to learn a bit more before I start my medicinal raw chocolate company. It's always a pleasure to meet other healers. I connected with this girl who had studied herbs in Colorado and had lived in SF for awhile before moving to Moab to work at the cafe. The Love Muffin is one of the few local, organic, seasonal spots in town, and while not a raw food place, they had an amazing "Greenie Salad" that totally kept me happy.
In the afternoon, Cameron and his dog Niko drove from Salt Lake City to meet us in person and hang out for a few days. I was already flirting with the idea of spending a few seasons in Southern Utah to do some canyoneering, but then we decided to go hiking in Negro Bill Canyon and I totally fell in love with Canyon Country and all its secrets. It just felt like coming home to a place I'd never been before...the colors were so soothing, the water so calming, the stones so energetic. After a few hours of hiking and great conversation, we got lost in the dark, and Venus dangled over the Moon in a miraculous display, seducing us with their near-copulation.
Most people in Moab are too busy going out canyoneering, rock climbing, hiking, and spending time on the river to check email, so we didn't have much luck with hosting and it was too cold at night to camp at that elevation, so we stayed in 'America's Cheapest Hostel' instead. At $9 a night (and with Evelyn's disclaimer that it's "not like other hostels"), I thankfully wasn't really expecting too much of the Lazy Lizard. It's one of those places where you get what you pay for and just give gratitude for having a place to stay. Something was energetically off from the moment we arrived and it took me some time to realize the depths of what Evelyn meant. There was a dark energy hanging over the place that wormed its way into all the details. For example, you can often notice the amount of self-love or positive energy a person has for themselves by observing how well they take care of their surroundings and how much love they put into tasks, which further reflects what they are open to receiving. This was a place where the bare minimum was done and the place was neglected, which seemed to not only appear in the physical appearance of the entire hostel, but also in the relationships of the people working and living there. It definitely had an effect that made us want to distance from it & spend as little time there as possible, but we learned a very important thing the second night and that was to dig deeper. Since everything is connected, you cannot separate yourself from others. The key is to find the common bond.
So we ate a delicious kale & dandelion green salad and some raw hazelnut cookies out in the freezing cold while talking to strangers Helena & Chad about raw food & bacon (I swear this is the most asked question I've gotten about raw foods on this trip so far - "So, what do you do about bacon?") until we were near frozen. Then we sauntered over to the fire in front of the trailers where we had been invited to join a group of people and let our perceptions dissolve in the flame and sought out the common bond in all of us - our humanity. These people weren't really any different from us at the core, it just seemed that from a distance, they had a few layers of hurt & trauma from hard lives that dulled their luster from years of no one showing them how to clean it off so they could shine brightly again. Had we not been able to make that connection and remove judgement and realize there is only "us" and no "them", we would have never met an amazing father with a soulful song named Aspen, a hilarious musician named EtherAshe who had lived in Romania and was full of crazy stories, another guy who loved his girlfriend so much it was breaking his heart, and several other interesting souls. It was one of those really strange evenings with strangers that stays with you when you recall your travels later.
Water is becoming a recurring (and dominant) theme on this trip. After loading up all our containers with fresh spring water naturally filtered through 2000 feet of Navajo Sandstone in Zion, we headed to Moab, Utah. Driving through The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument landscape, we had an opportunity to see some of the most breathtaking landscape in the country. One the way, we stopped in Escalante at Georgie's Corner Cafe for lunch because the creative eccentric touches (A waterwheel and pink flamingos? Yes, please!) on the outside seemed to tell us we'd encounter some colorful humanity.
I love places that have a sort of homey feel to them, where the essence of the owners is colorfully expressed everywhere. Georgie didn't disappoint. Everything in her place is freshly made to order and well worth the wait. She's got a fair amount of veggie options and a few salads, as well as some of the best iced tea I've ever had. She was even able to direct us to Keven Peterson, the maker of the waterwheel we were so entranced by. He came by and she persuaded him to show us his studio, so off we went.
Keven is a perfect example of how form & function can work together. Keven has a background in chemical engineering. When he was in his early 20s, his primary intention was to generate power by running a generator off the hub of the wheel, not to make art. He worked with copper because of its diamagnetic properties and begun creating hydrowheels. In time, he started thinking about the aesthetic issues, and his work evolved into the beautiful works of art you can see below. Half a dozen of the big hydrowheels (see top photo against side of wall) could use the torque of the water from the Escalante River to generate enough power to run the whole town, with the exception of the sawmill. I envision the hydrowheels being placed at intervals along the river someday, and transforming the waterfront area into an energetic sculpture garden that would not only generate power, but also provide a beautiful place for people to gather. I look forward to the day when my intentional community has moved past the early stages and we can afford to work on a healing garden and incorporate some of Keven's work in it. We plan to be full of the grid, so having an extra power source would be a plus and I bet he could figure out a way to create some genius device that incorporates irrigation somehow. I'd love to see his work in retreat centers and gardens across the globe. The sound of them is entrancing.
As the conversation moved towards art and sound, Keven told us his dream installation would combine the flexibility of buffalo bones, old-time cylinder records (the kind with nicks in them that rotate), and a wall of drums run by a hydrowheel. Once the drums were initially set to motion, they would automatically make music powered by the force of water. Keven makes beautiful handmade Native American drums too. After hearing about our encounters in Escalante, our friend Cameron decided to pass through and meet with Keven so he could learn how to make one. This is one of my favorite things about meeting people when you travel - the exchange of information creates immediate connections amongst people and strengthens the bonds of humanity. Here'a a few images of some work in progress pieces at Keven's studio on West Main Street in Escalante...
After I finish up odds & ends and death & taxes in Vegas, we flee to Zion National Park to get away from city life and spend some time communing with nature and delighting in uncertainty. Last time I drove cross country with my darling illustrator friend Elliott in 2003, I got sick in the Big Horn Mountains and we had to cancel the Southern Utah portion of our trip so I could make it to SF in time for an interview, so I am super excited to finally get a chance to see such amazing beauty.
We arrive at nightfall, set up our tent and get ready for bed. I feel the earth cradle my body, support my spine, and realign me with its touch. This is exactly what I needed to release the stress from the last 2 days (terminating my lease, organizing friends to remove the rest of my stuff in SF and dealing with the imbalanced sublettor) and reconnect with what is really important. The earth is always so grounding, and sleeping outside in fresh air always feels best (yes, I was nodding with agreement while reading the section on sleeping outdoors in Victoria Boutenko's 12 Steps to Raw Foods. In SF, I loved that the temperature was mild enough all year round to leave my windows cracked) to me, which is a major part of why I love camping so much.
The North Wind begins whispering and I think I'm in for a gentle song to lull me to sleep, but she has something on her mind, and her restlessness keeps me up most of the night. It's a small price to pay for being in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, a place that feels sacred and possesses strong healing energy, which I am very much in need of after LA & Vegas back to back. San Francisco, as a city, is more grounded in it's energy and nature is more accessible and abundant. There is lots of beauty near LA, but the traffic and need to get into a car to get everywhere can be a big deterrent, especially for a bicycle/public transport person like myself.
As I write this, I'm sitting on the edge of a cliff, inches away from the water curling it's fingers over the edge of Navajo sandstone, and the sound soothes me in a way that nothing else can. It doesn't matter that I only slept a few hours or that my hip is experiencing some technical difficulties - all that matters is that I am here, now. The vibrational power of water is astounding. Sound is vibration and the energy flows in all directions; the syncopation of the life force pulses with my own heartbeat, making my soul do a little dance with the molecules embedded in everything. I watch the water drop down into the Virgin River as the sky opens up above the canyon. I close my eyes and listen to the water reverberating around me and within me and drift naturally into meditation. I remember the last words I read last night before I turned off my headlamp:
Survival is in the rivers of your blood. So is death. Open to what you fear.