I am on a desert walkabout. Places like Hovenweep, Canyons of the Ancients, Arches, Great Sands, Chaco.
I try not to hike the main trails. It’s not that I don’t like the sights. It’s that I don’t like lots of people. Not personally. Just en masse. It’s the back trails and wandering that call to me.
I walk at 1.8 mile per hour. I can go faster, I used to. But then I’d miss things. The intricacy of a spider’s web. Small flowers. The tiny tracks of lizards, mice and birds in the sand. The smell of a double needle Utah pine compared to a juniper. The song of a grey desert vireo. Ravens wings whisping rhythmically above me. The shape of clouds or a twisted juniper.
I understand what it’s like to go faster. Everything we do in our culture is fast. Once, I agreed to do a rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon with my 70-year-old cousin. He suggested that 12 hours would be a good goal. That’s about 2 miles per hour. Anybody can walk at 2 mph. But it’s 24 miles and a 10,000-foot elevation change. Sort of like a perpetual stair step machine. I told him I would try, but that I walked slow.
When we reached the bottom, it was 110 degrees. By 2 pm, it was 130 degrees in the sun. What I remember was resting in the shade and watching two ground squirrels face off against a rattle snake. They turned their backs and kicked small rocks at him. They took their time. The snake moved off. I might have missed this if I hadn’t been melting and walking slower than 2 miles per hour. The hike took us 15 hours.
This isn’t a judgment about people that walk the main trails or drive through a national park and look at the sights from their car windows. I think we could all benefit by getting off the treadmill. I’m not the first to say this, or the last, I imagine. I like the idea that more people get out into nature. It’s one of the ways we can all appreciate the earth, and perhaps hesitate when our politicians think it’s a good idea to allow mine waste dumping in our waterways, or repeal the Clean Power plan.
I’d just say, when you go a little slower, you begin to understand that everything is connected. The fact that your neighboring forest is dropping needles might be related to acid-rain coming back. That the drought we are experiencing, or the forest fire, or the hurricane, is all connected.
Today, I was walking through a Chaco ruins. My eye caught two objects on the ground next to the fence holding back people from the ruins. One was a pottery chard. The other was a cutting flint, a stone not native to the area. Hundreds of people walk past this spot every week. I picked them up, and tossed them further toward the ruins, back from the fence. No souvenirs. The people of Chaco walked slowly. They understood the stars, and the seasons, and the years.
Now, I’m not sure where I will go next, and that’s just fine. I just know I will go slowly.
We are all connected. Savor the earth.
L. Hobart Stocking
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