The sun set an orange blaze to see the day’s end arrive. I drove, as I have so many times before, with that fire to my right and a cold blue washing over the fields to my left. Eastern New Mexico is often ignored for the more prominent northern and southern parts, yet the flat plains and farms are certainly pastoral and such land has long held my fascination. I grew up in a city, then just on the outskirts (although we had a wonderful creek that rippled behind our house), but not far from Lancaster city proper lies the rolling hills and farms of the Amish and Mennonite communities: green and gold, thriving or fallow. I chose to move away from the populated areas when I was 19 when I went to college in the smallest of towns in central Kansas. The flatlands lacked the green waves of Lancaster County, but they were nonetheless beautiful. I can remember quite clearly the first summer storms I experienced in the middle of a picked over milo field. There were at least half a dozen gray, silver, and charcoal systems pounding the land in the distance, stabbing it with hot lightening. I don’t know if it was the storms or my fancy, but the air felt electric. I then moved on to the mountains of Virginia, which held more farms plowed into the side of the Appalachia. The glens did sing true in the spring and fall, painting with the sound of growing and dying, both colors handsome and new.
And here, more than a decade from the time I left the emerald east, I drive through land that has been recently harvested and so reflects the burning of the day. Silos and grain elevators silhouette against the oncoming rush of blue while irrigation pivots still themselves for the night. I’ve secured a small and simple cabin about ten miles north of Carlsbad. I’m on my way to Big Bend National Park in Texas, and this is the first of thirty-one nights I will spend alone. Tonight is Halloween; I won’t be home until the calendar reads December.
I’ve been chosen to explore, and craft music inspired by a harsh and beautiful piece of far west Texas called the Big Bend. It’s named so because the seemingly never ending Rio Grande cuts a sharp U-turn north after having travelled south since the Colorado/New Mexico border. It carves its way through a canyon land seldom seen by America. A dusty corner, forgotten and sunburnt, where the sun shines hot and hard and only the most adaptable of creatures, human or otherwise, survive. It is a place of trial, but as is so often the case with such places, it is the perfect environment for healing and creating.
The dark fog of the past three months has moved on from me and for this I am grateful. To begin this journey free of depression is nothing short of a miracle. The level of anxiety I have experienced over this trip has been observably more than your average person would experience, but a lot less considering what passes for normal in my brain. As I packed the Gray Haven full of every essential piece of camping and survival gear, music and recording equipment of all types, an inflatable kayak, and what seemed to my wife and I to be an adequate amount of frozen chili and lentils to last me an entire month, I found that I was stalling. There was a charged excitement that had slowly settled over me in the months since I found out about my appointment as one of centennial resident artists for Big Bend National Park, it over the weekend it had approached its zenith. But I kept slowing myself down, even when I was in the car and on the road there were last minute errands that “just had to be done” (they didn’t). I said goodbye to Deborah in the morning when she left for work. It was hard but we had a great weekend together and I’ll see her the week of Thanksgiving. I’m not sure that was what was holding me in town. Although I will miss having her next to me every night, I think what was chaining me to the middle Rio Grande valley was not a fear of what negative encounters I may have, but of the positive changes and healing that could occur during such a sojourn. Change has always been an exciting prospect throughout my life, one that has kept me moving forward, but in recent years I have grown weary and apprehensive of change. Subsequently, I feel my progression in healing has been stunted, and perhaps it is a change of this nature that can be a shot in the arm.
Even so, I have worked hard to keep myself from holding any expectations for the following weeks. Tempered expectations are one of the keys to a good life. My aunt always told me, “If you don’t expect anything, you won’t get disappointed.” A Zen master couldn’t have spoken truth more clearly. It’s hard to have expectations for something you have never attempted before, and its for the best. Still, creating goals is always a smart thing and I definitely have some broadly defined ideas as to what I would like to see happen, without forming an attachment to them:
- Write music.
- Hike a lot.
- Get better.
I feel these are reasonable and accomplishable goals when given a month in one of the most amazing and dramatic national parks in America. I’ll stay in my little cabin tonight, no doubt listening to a Stephen King audio book until my eyelids feel heavy. Tomorrow I’ll explore Carlsbad Caverns in the morning before making the final push towards Big Bend. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of positive mystery.
The earth has fascinated me since I was a small boy playing in our tiny backyard in downtown Lancaster. I’ve watched that fascination grow with each move forward in my life. The correlation is not coincidental: the earth has a power that can only be understood when connected to it. I began that journey a long time ago, and it’s taken me more time than some others to get where I am. Now that I’m here I won’t be wasting any time. I’m at another point where that forward momentum is going to take me somewhere. As hard as I try to temper it, my imagination is running wild tonight.