Cedar Mesa 2016

At the start, I was unsure of the exact nature of this excursion. Later, having experienced it, I realized that my solo backpacking trip was all that I desired, and more.
IMG_8430 Based on a framework plan to hike deep into a Cedar Mesa canyon and its tributaries, I had freedom to explore and to immerse myself in the sensual nature of the diverse desert landscape.
IMG_8421 A solo trip into the backcountry is a rare experience of both dispossession, and at the same time, the most wonderful self-indulgence and richness. Everyday comforts and conveniences are cast away, connections with family and friends are on hold, and the internet is (hopefully) inaccessible. Taking the minimum essential for survival, it’s necessary to work hard at simple tasks like preparing a place to sleep or finding clean water to drink.
IMG_8486 This opens a doorway to such treasure; that of the natural world around us. Senses awaken – vision infuses with color and light, nostrils sniff the damp of a pool, ears attune to animal song. Existing solo, but never alone; intimately alive and connected with mother earth.
IMG_8542 Amongst a myriad of felt sensations are the sun’s warm caress and the canyon’s deeply cooling shadows; a light breeze fluttering leaves or a strong wind calling loudly; a watery pool attracting a toad, a snake and a lizard; evening song of frogs, crickets and bats; smells of dry sage and damp mossy springs, and the glow of golden evening light or soft pink moonshine on rock. IMG_8427 I sensed the timelessness of this place, where people of the past ran across the slick rock I walked on, and where they communed with spirits through spirals and ghost hands on stone.
IMG_8428 At night, I pitched my tent in a place that felt just right; in the morning, I discovered age-old art, and I knew that others had felt at home here too. Eagles soared and stars cycled above in the sky, as they had done centuries before in this mystical life-giving place.
IMG_8448 I learnt that survival is not about “what’s out there to get me”, but about how I manage myself. At the end of a long day of exploring, I was looking forward to camp. Upon arriving, I took off my wet shoes and set down my backpack. Then I noticed something missing – my tent! Reluctant to don my soggy sand-soaked sneakers, wearing flip flops, I set off through the scrub and river landscape to find my missing shelter. Short-cutting across the creek, I felt the sudden, eager grab of quicksand. My leg jerked back up, but my flip flop remained trapped below! Dropping to hands and knees, I dug frantically in the watery mud, imagining laughter resonating from the looming canyon walls. Eventually, without the flip flop, I returned to camp, wincing across prickly ground. But, still determined, I put on the soggy sneakers, and went again in search of my tent. I think the canyon spirits pitied me, for not long after, in the middle of a clearing, I found my blue tent bag. Beneath a darkening sky, I returned humbly to camp.
IMG_8419 I learnt life lessons in the canyons including to be open to surprises; to be persistent; step back to gain clarity, and consider from many angles.
IMG_8424 Be patient. Inhabit a place and it will grow. The longer you stay, the more will be revealed. Where you saw only a rock with a shady overhang, there will be a small dark door to a hidden granary. A craggy rock face will soften to hold a smooth panel marked with a red man, green hands or a white antelope.
IMG_8496 Release expectations, hold anticipation
IMG_8492 I followed the meandering river, walking in huge arcs, looping back upon myself. I ran up the slick rock canyon sides and circled down again. I stood atop a narrow promontory between two river bends, trying to understand the form, feeling the shape, the way that water moved in an intricate dance with rock; water carving rock, rock guiding water.
IMG_8512 I understood better the timeless spirals etched in ancient rock and knew that the desert winds would propel me back to this mystical mesa again.