Wednesday, September 30, 2009

cold weather diary, 1.

today is the first real cold day here and i am remembering waking up on a snowy morning in pittsburgh. i was supposed to take driving lessons but they were cancelled because of the snow. it's high school, of course, and i'm sleeping on the third floor of a big old house on briarcliff rd., right on the edge of frick park. i look out of her window, and everything is covered in bright white - the trees, the beautiful houses, the road and the cars. there is still snow falling. it sounds like someone playing the piano. lacy is laying next to me - like always when she sleeps, her mouth is open a little. rachel's boyfriend comes to wake us up. jumping on the bed, ruffling the sheets and crawling into bed with us. it's chilly in the room. the house feels a little empty, like it'd always had to me. the snow makes it seem even quieter, even more fragile, even more secretive - even more mysterious to me - even more foreign than it'd seemed to me before. rachel stands at the end of the bed laughing at us as lacy and i yell at him to get out of the bed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

let your love cover me / like a pair of angel wings / you are my family

it was derrick's last day and i promised him a ride to the flagstaff airport. it was also the day that i was going to meet my parents there. as we were leaving the park, my car ran out of gas. i called AAA, the pittsburgh division - they had to call the middle-of-nowhere arizona division, who then had to call the company garage, who would come and give me some gas. this took at least an hour - which was frustrating for a number of reasons, especially since i could see the company garage from where i was standing where my car stalled. had the garage just come, without AAA, i would have owed them $75. so i waited. my cell phone dying, poor reception unless standing in the middle of the road, i even came head to head with a tour bus who almost ran me over because i wouldn't get out of the middle of the road. derrick and his girlfriend happy and kissing. me, angry and crying sitting in the stupid arizona gravel that is a stupid substitute for grass. eventually a cute boy, probably in college, showed up to give my car some gas. he rode horses, at least that's what his jacket claimed. i had a moment long daydream about him - and us, somewhere in northern arizona, me as his girlfriend and him as the slow, quiet rodeo guy. i gave him $5 and we went on our way.

when heather, from AAA, explained to me, "laura, i'm heather, the problem is that i'm in Pittsburgh and i need to contact the Northern Arizona division of AAA for this to work" - i started to cry. heather knew how to deal with me - and i could picture her, in pittsburgh, on a rainy day - maybe she had Panera for lunch - and tonight she'd go home to a house in Wexford, probably and watch the channel 11 news. this was the first time that i've cried here. the sense of wanting came back. i wanted to be with my parents. i wanted to be stuck on the side of the road with someone who knew how to deal with me when i get insane. the sense of urgency, like the world might end if i didn't get to my parents soon, came rushing back.

the last time i felt this feeling was when i came home to visit a few months ago. i landed in Pittsburgh at 10:00pm and knew that my friends were all waiting at the bar for me. i felt like the road would never end, the traffic lights would never turn green, like the car in front of us would never speed up. and i ran - i think i actually ran to them. standing outside of the bar, smoking cigarettes - laurie and chris and lacy and paul and jenn and margot and everyone. this, laura, is who you are. this is who loves you.

i finally got to flagstaff. my parents were at the hotel monte vista bar - a historic hotel that gives grand canyon employees discounts. i walked in and found them sitting together, next to clinton, a local who was helping to restore the building. he was only 30, but looked 80. and i laughed to myself - my mom, of course, had made a friend. and my dad, of course, was enjoying the spoils of her friendly, outgoing, talkative nature. we went to dinner and spent the night in the john wayne suite of the hotel and left in the morning on our northern arizona adventure which included almost everything there is to see north of the south rim of the canyon.

we were driving through the desert, listening to james taylor (james taylor has no business in northern arizona, but i was okay with it on this day). my dad was driving, my mom in the backseat commenting on everything we saw, "oh! look at that - sort of looks like a cathedral in italy, huh?" or my dad laughing at a halfway constructed house in the middle of the desert, "look! they're building a McMansion on the reservation!" and i felt another feeling that i hadn't felt in a while - loved. safe. known. i felt a shift come over me that's difficult to explain. it was physical, emotional and mental. settling into the feeling of companionship, love, family, tenderness, being cared for, being adored - a feeling that i've known so well all of my life. leaving the feeling of independence, pride, self-reliance, the feeling of having to prove myself - this whole time out here started seeming senseless, or fake, or useless in comparison to how it felt to be with them.

their time here was wonderful. being with my mom as she studied the plants and the rocks and noticed things that i ignore made everything that i love about her overwhelm me. we took walks and smelled tree bark and watched chipmunks. she took me around the forest and explained aspen trees to me and even stole some branches that had fallen off the tree - of course she did. and we sat, and she talked to everyone and anyone, alive, dead, birds, chipmunks, flowers - whatever it might be, she'll find a way to have a conversation. and my dad. who i owe so much of who i am to. growing up, my friends were going to myrtle beach, or florida and my dad was driving us around to remote, interesting, beautiful places. wyoming, and washington, and mountains and oceans, colorado and maine and oregon and even a trip to prince edward island in canada. my dad who i owe so much to because of this - who gave me the experiences that have inspired me to love the same things as him, and love the same books, and love maps and geography and driving and the road and charles kuralt. my brother was missing - which sucked. on our trip to wyoming, my brother and i started making "moo-ing" sounds at every cow that we passed. eventually my parents had to lock the windows. i missed him a lot on this trip - he would have added doses of comedy and honesty and difficulty that we would have only benefitted from.

i'm writing this from my bed on my day off. and the feelings that i talked about seem distant again. i have less than 3 weeks here. i am trusting and knowing that when i get home to wellesley avenue, love will end up being a greater feeling than these arizona feelings. i learned a while ago that the difficult things are often the best things - i forgot to remember that love is often difficult. and not just romantic love - real love. between parents and children, brothers and sisters and friends. i am trying to purposefully do things that are hard, instead of running away from them. for a while now, i've thought that going back to pittsburgh would feel like settling, but it isn't until right now that i've realized that it's the opposite. this time has been an escape - and sure there's freedom, independence and i don't owe anyone anything here - but it's the easy way. and besides, i just really miss the rain.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

welcome to bedrock city

when i was here in 2005, we used to pass bedrock city on the way to flagstaff and i would look at it longingly from the passengers seat. i spent 4 years longing to come back to the grand canyon, and hopefully, finally, visit bedrock city. bedrock city is a flinstones themed RV park. you can spend the night, and also pay $5 to get into the theme park. since i've been here, i've been able to visit 2 times. once with my friends and once with my parents. it's become a highlight of life here - the food is cheap, the people are fantastic, the gift shop is scary and dusty and there is a cute dog who roams around the diner. when i think about friends coming to visit, bedrock city is always a must. when tourists ask what they should do here, i always mention it. i like the grand canyon, and i like national parks, but i like this stuff too. my mom asked our waitress how bedrock city came to be - and she said that one night a man had a dream about it. well - she wasn't sure if it was a dream at night, or a "dream" in the martin luther king sense. either way, he had a dream. and either way, i'm glad he was able to realize the dream.

i don't like to over edit my pictures, but it seemed like the only way to show this place - it felt appropriate. todd oldham did a much better job of photographing this place - and he has a great book. this is a link to the amazon page for it. you can see some of his pictures that are better than mine. i wish i would have taken more pictures of the interior of the houses. since i've been out here, the thought of taking pictures of interior spaces rarely crosses my mind.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

the sign read: you are traveling on the only paved road across 2.8 million acres

thomas merton says this: "i should be able to return to solitude each time as to the place i have never described to anybody, as the place which i have never brought anyone to see, as the place whose silence has mothered an interior life known to no one but God alone."

i've tried to write something here for an hour now. and nothing is working. except for what thomas merton said. hopefully these pictures speak for themselves. and hopefully you can sense how unbelievably torn i feel right now about having less than a month left here. i drove this road a month ago - and i think the pictures feel different than the ones i posted before.

lees ferry / the colorado river.
this picture makes me cry.
the vermillion cliffs
point imperial, north rim.
the north rim. you can see the shadows of the san francisco peaks and mt. humphreys. this, i think, is one of the most beautiful views in the whole world.
marble canyon. the colorado river the most amazing and powerful force in america.
i actually loved the movie "into the wild" - a huge reason was that a lot of it was filmed in northern arizona. there's a shot of him near these rocks in the movie.
echo cliffs / marble canyon. shadow of the navajo bridge that takes you onto the reservation

Friday, September 11, 2009

top 5

i've really been into the top 5 list lately. today i want to share the top 5 things that i miss about home that i didn't expect to miss.

1. the carnegie museum. surrounded by beautiful nature, i find myself missing man-made beauty.
2. frick park. which is funny, because i was so sick of it before i left. is this the best that you can give me, pittsburgh? is this "park" all you've got to show me?
3. birds. black birds. a lot of them, in the sky. the other day i saw some in flagstaff and nearly wrecked my car / watching the pattern and the motion of 20 birds in flight together. the shape of their bodies, the color of their wings were so familiar. especially since i spent most of last fall and winter in deep study of the creature along with my assistant, brian werner.
4. a few weeks ago i was at the clinic (my mom insisted that i go, even though i didn't need to) and the nurse had her hand on my back while listening to my heart, and i felt a feeling i hadn't felt in a long time: tenderness. it was well worth the $60 bill that arrived in my mailbox a few days ago.
5. rain at night. i have a vision of myself going to see a movie at the manor, or the regent square theater. and it's raining. and it's night. and i miss that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

a letter to anne renda, woman who gave me a $20 jesus-tip

dear anne,

i'm the girl with red hair who you gave the tip to at the yavapai lodge in the grand canyon. when you checked in, i didn't even think about you. or, correction, what i thought about was that i would never think about you again. another person who was going to ask me the same questions - as if i would forget to tell you where your room was, how to get there, what your room number was or that i would forget to make you keys. i thought you'd ask me where to watch the sunset, how to ride the shuttle bus (which, by the way, is outlined clearly in the park guide given to you when you come in the park entrance), where you could see elk and how far away that cool glass overlook that you've seen on tv is (and by the way, it's 250 miles west near las vegas and it costs at least $80 to stand on the skywalk for 10 minutes). this is who i thought you'd be, because, you did, in fact, ask me one of the questions i hate the most: "will i be able to park my car near my room?" when you asked me, i immediately knew that you felt the defeat that i feel daily. the hopelessness, the frustration, the boredom, you knew how tired i was. and i knew you knew, because you sighed, kindly, and apologized - deeply, "i'm sorry. i bet you get the same questions every day."
this morning when you came to check out i recognized you. you came up to me and asked me a question that i certainly didn't mind answering - "are you allowed to take tips?" the answer is no, but i lied and quietly said that i could. i hope you realized how shy and happy i got when you asked - and i'm sure you noticed how red my face got. i finished the check out, and you slipped me a $20 bill, wrapped inside of a note that said, "Thank you."
the note also says this: thank you, we say it so often when a waitress gives us good service, when a customer buys our product, when someone gives us a helping hand. sometimes we say thanks by leaving a small tip, send a little gift to friend or hostess or when we give that warm, sincere hand-shake. i'd like to show my appreciation to you by telling you something that is of far greater value. it is simply that the greatest gift in the world can be yours for the asking. that gift is the friendship of my best friend - Jesus Christ. he took away my sin and guilt and gives me joy and peace. i find in him my life, my hope, my everything! he invites you, "come unto me, all he that labor and are heavy laden, and i will give you rest." he saves; he keeps; he satisfies! introducing him to you is the best way that i can say thank you.
i thought about crying a little when i got this letter - because yesterday was a hard day at work. and even though i don't like the whole tract thing, at all, i like you. you probably go to a chruch i wouldn't like too much, and have theologies i probably really disagree with, and you probably would think i shouldn't wear jeans to church or drink or even have a tattoo. but i like the man you're talking about, and i know you like the man i'd talk about - i still believe we're talking about the same guy. and even though He's better than $20, that $20 will buy me food for 2 weeks. so thank you. i hope you keep doing your thing.

Monday, September 7, 2009


books i've read this summer that i recommend.
i also want you to know that i love my dad for 1. driving my family around maine, wyoming, washington, oregon, california, colorado, arizona and utah and the rest of america and 2. being smart and interesting and telling me to read good books. i would be 1/2 as interesting without him. the other 1/2 is my mom's responsibility.

the chosen - chaim potok
a year of living biblically - a.j. jacobs
my boyhood and youth - john muir
the solace of open spaces - gretel ehrlich
holy the firm - annie dillard
crossing to safety - wallace stegner
the milagro beanfield war - john nichols

you found me by the fields of wild gold / my hands still filled with ashes from fires long cooled

there's something about mary - for laurie. maybe i can enter this into the 700 club or something as a "mary-sighting"
sometimes i drive on dirt roads and listen to country music with the windows down.
note the moon in the bottom right corner. it's what makes the picture worth it.
more than i love the grand canyon - i love what surrounds the grand canyon. to the north - well, you have more canyon. to the east, there is the painted desert, to the south there is the san francisco peaks, oak creek canyon and sedona, and to the west... you have las vegas, but that's besides the point. i had today off and took a hike in the coconino national forest to the top of slate "mountain" - it's not a mountain, by my standards, or most standards, it only took 3 miles to get to the top. it was easy. but no less beautiful because of its ease. it was a good way to spend my labor day.
i went to a barbeque at the house of two friends from church. they're married with a cute little girl named sophia. there were a few of us there - ate some hot dogs and then watched a bad robert dinero movie on their new 50 inch screen tv. i left early to get home so that i could waste my evening alone, doing the same activity - only better: watching the entire series of six feet under, again, for the second time.
during dinner, i realized that i was happy there. although these friendships aren't the most intimate relationships in my life - or anywhere near it, they're what i've got here - and they're enough. i've said this a few times before, and i probably won't stop saying it - but one of the greatest lessons of the desert is that sometimes enough is . . . enough. with less options, you find that you need less, you desire less, you want less. or maybe what you need, desire and want changes. either way - the idea that you are entitled to more seems to be understood as what it is: an idea, and a faulty, deceptive idea at that. and what makes it so false is that it simply doesn't work. or - at least, it hasn't worked for me.
i thought i was smart enough to know that the right job, right friends, right things wouldn't make me happy. i don't think it was until i got out here and had to actually settle for less that i realized it hasn't felt like settling at all - in fact, i don't think i've felt this satisfied in a long time. maybe it's something of a mystery, and maybe it's impossible to explain, but i've traded the things that have mattered the most to me in for an average job, average friends, an average church - and not only am i okay with it, but somehow it's better.