Monday, April 20, 2009

And Memory

My trip memories need to be preserved today, but this morning a news report triggered another memory. One much less pleasant, but which has had a powerful impact on my life.

I had been teaching school at my first job for just 3 1/2 months when I got a message over the intercom to go and pick up the phone immediately. This in itself was strange, but when the secretary said that the phone call was from my aunt, the weird meter hit the roof. Was something wrong with my grandmother? My parents? I hurried to the phone in an adjoining teacher's supply room. My aunt proceeded to tell me a story about teenage-gunmen, a hostage situation, SWAT teams, the Trenchcoat Mafia and pipe bombs at a school in south Denver. She wondered if I knew what high school my Colorado cousins attended; she had been unable to reach their dad and I was the next best person to know. Somehow I pulled a memory out of nowhere, "No, I think they go to a Denver school that has an Indian-sounding name."

I was right. My cousins were at Arapaho. Not Columbine. Neighboring schools, same community, same demographic.

I walked back to my students in a daze, repeating what I had heard to them. One student laughed out loud; I looked at him in surprise. He was an extremely nice kid. He backpedaled, "I mean; it just sounds so weird! They must be joking, right? It must all be a big hoax!"

The next day he apologized profusely for his cavalier attitude. Within the week, our school counselor asked us to have a conversation in each class about what had happened. Some classes wanted to talk a lot; other groups brushed it off and wanted to move on. One student, whom I'd never noticed anything strange from, said, "Those jocks got exactly what they deserved." I knew then that the counselor had asked us to talk about it in class both to help the kids work through emotions they might be having, but also to identify those who might sympathize with the perpetrators.

Public schools entered a new era, a post-Columbine era. Teachers, counselors, administration and communities approach bullying differently now. The school safety plan and classroom evacuation procedures are given as much weight as lesson plans. And our trust has eroded just a little bit further. I didn't know that a columbine was a flower until I married my Colorado boy. They grow wild in the Rockies; the ones you buy and plant as perennials in your garden have hardly been engineered at all, and look much the same as the ones you find in unexpected places in the Colorado Fourteeners in the middle of summer. I love these hardy and beautiful flowers. I never seen one now without thinking of that school. Those kids held graduation just a month and a half later: to show they world that they could not be defeated. Those there that day would never to be the same again--in the summer of 1999 I worked at a tutoring center in Denver just after Plantboy and I got married. One of my colleagues was a history teacher at Columbine. He was there that day. He wouldn't talk about it. No doubt the memories were too fresh and painful. Maybe they always will be.

Memories don't always come from things we anticipate. Maybe the most powerful memories are things that surprise us for good or ill. Things that throw us off balance so much that we never look at our lives the same again.

And anticipation doesn't always lead to great memories, nor does anticipation and planning necessarily mean that snafus will not occur. If this doesn't sound like an exactly promising start to a post about a vacation, well, there is reason for that. We knew we should take care of a muffler issue on our family car before heading out of town. We did not. When we DID get it to a shop near my parents' house before heading to Dixie, the mechanic told Plantboy that we were lucky not to have blown ourselves up; the burning smell that had plagued us all the way from Oregon was melting plastic and carpet fibers--from a big hole just inches under our luggage. We got rid of the burning smell only to spill a gallon of water into said carpet from a container with a slow leak. It was too cold in Southern Utah for the car to ever properly dry out and mildew was a constant and aromatic companion for the duration. (I know--it is an enigma. Too cold to dry out and yet warm enough to grow mold.)

As we headed south, the weather seemed to actually get colder. Because of the car issue we were way behind schedule and I called our bed and breakfast at the mouth of Zion Canyon to find out I'd made my booking a week late and there were no vacancies. Thinking that it MUST be their mistake, I called to confirm our second bed and breakfast. Oh, it was actually MY mistake. I booked both places for a week that we would not actually BE in Utah. Perfect. When we stopped to take our first hike, there was about four inches of uber-sticky red mud at the trailhead.

We drove (at least) two hours out of the way in a snowstorm to attend a session at the Manti Temple, which we have never done before. When we pulled up to the temple, the parking lot was practically deserted and the workmen at the front who were dismantling the doors informed us that the temple was on shutdown. This two week hiatus for deep cleaning and noisy and/or messy repairs is generally done in February and again in July. No, the engineer, informed us, with so many temples now in operation, the shutdown periods are staggered.

In ten days we drove 2000 miles. This car-time has been so kind to my back that I think it is finally time to break down and find a chiropractor here in my fair city. The mountain of laundry in the hallway does not rival Mt. Everest, but it probably gets at least K2 status. Today I have two kids with croupy coughs. It is like living with seals.
And yet . . .
We had a wonderful time.
I'll spare you the travel log, and instead I will just show some of my favorite pictures from the trip. I'll try to keep the commentary brief. (After all, brevity is my strong point.) They are not in any particular order. It is hard to say on how many levels I hate the way blogger loads pictures and I just don't have the patience to arrange them chronologically today.

This is the view just outside Capitol Reef National Park. Yes, this is outside the park. I loved this park--in part because I've never been there before and it was cool to try something new. It reminded me a lot of Lake Powell. The south end of CRNP actually touches the Glen Canyon area, which is where Lake Powell is. The mountains all around our bed and breakfast looked just like this. Amazing.

This is Torrey Pines Bed and Breakfast, which is just outside Torrey, Utah to the east a little bit. Because we were a week early, the proprietress wasn't there; it was just her husband. He took excellent care of us, including biscuits and gravy with fruit on a very pretty table setting for breakfast. He also gave us a recommendation for a fantastic restaurant. Eldon said that the county Torrey sits in has the cleanest air rating in the entire country. I believe it. Even with the clouds we could see for hundreds of miles at any vantage point between Bryce and Capitol Reef.

If you ever find yourself in Torrey, sans children, you must eat at this restaurant. It is probably our most mediocre photo from the entire trip, but I did find a picture of Planboy's meal on their website.
What do you think it is? Here are your choices:
a) Turnip ribbons on lamb chops
b) Radish shreds over fried potatoes and pork roast
c) Baby back pork ribs, slow roasted in chipotle, molasses & rum glaze, squash & zucchini, with mashed sweet potatoes
d) Not food at all. A centerpiece.

These are Anasazi wall carvings found in CRNP. The Mormon pioneers settled the area not long after arriving in Utah, like many communities in the western US. When they arrived in the Fremont River valley, they found lush grasses growing along the river's edge, a micro-climate perfect for growing fruit trees, and thousand year old irrigation ditches. They built their own community the same place the Indians had generations and generations earlier. Like the Indians, the fickle river eventually flooded out the Mormon pioneers and a permanent community was never established right on the river. The surviving area is called "Fruita" and has been a part of the park for decades. In the summer you can camp in the park and pick seasonal fruit for about a dollar a pound. Bargain.

This was the only view we got of the Fruita orchards with any sun in the background. We had clouds and wind that entire day. When the sun peaked out for a moment, Plantboy got the above shot.

These close up shots are Plantboy's speciality. I think his plant pictures are always so amazing because something about him speaks to the soul of a plant. They show their beauty to him in a way they don't reveal to me.

This tree was at the top of a hike to a bridge called Hickman Bridge. Plantboy found a place to scramble up about two stories of rock which came out to a plateau that connected the bridge. Initially he was hoping to cross the bridge, but there was a gap too wide and too narrow to safely cross. He backpedaled and saw this tree on the other side of a wash through a slot canyon. I walked down the bridge and waited and saw him pop his head out of a small divet to the side of the arch, 200 feet above the ground. He called, "I guess this way doesn't go out!" Uh, no. His voice echoing all around the wash under the bridge. My heart nearly stopped at how close he was to the edge.
I didn't hear an all-clear from him for several minutes and began to have visions of Sevier County Search and Rescue pulling my husband's half-dead frostbitten body from the top of a cliff when I finally heard him coming back. He presented me with a tiny twig with one of these lovely pink flowers on it, apologized, and said that the tree made him do it. How could I stay upset?

This is my tiny self dwarfed under the bridge referenced above. There is still fifty or hundred feet of ground below the picture, the niche that Plantboy hovered in was to the right of the arch, just out of the picture. This was a fantastic hike and the arch was amazing. Not quite as picturesque as Delicate Arch, but I think I enjoyed the hike more. There were a lot fewer people also and the arch was just enormous. The rocks I'm sitting on fell to form part of the arch.

This cool wash was on the way up to the bridge. If you look past Plantboy, there was a whole room in there. We scrambled around a little bit and explored both the inside and got up on top of it. When I see such amazing places it is no wonder to me that the Native Americans so resented the encroachment of the whites. No doubt, such natural retreats were sacred to them. It must have been like bile for them to watch each place systematically desecrated both literally and figuratively with our indifference. I'm immensely grateful to the presidents and politicians in the early part of the 1900's who insisted that some places be set aside.

Oh look! A little chair, just my size.

Look at those natural steps. How convenient! Okay, not really, but I love groomed trails that have attempted to become such a part of the landscape. I think they are beautiful. It also keeps you from straying off the path when you see how hard they worked to make a path for you. I don't mind trailblazing; it is actually pretty fun, but if everyone takes that attitude, then eventually the thing that was once so lovely becomes ruined.

Remember those views I talked about? Seeing for hundreds of miles, even on a cloudy day? Well, the best place for such views is the highway between Bryce and Capitol Reef. In a very controversial move in the last month of his presidency, Clinton designated thousands of square miles in southern Utah as a national monument. The environmentalists were pleased--the move effectively kept oil and gas and shale exploration OUT of that region. The locals were furious. The cattle and sheep grazers who have used those public lands for generations were no longer allowed in, and the future revenue from the jobs and taxes brought in my oil companies was lost. It sure is pretty country.
I didn't know until this trip that the reason this region is called the Grand Staircase is because, geologically speaking, the bottom layer of Bryce is the top layer of Zion and the bottom layer of Zion is the top layer of the Grand Canyon. Seeing a cross section of the parks lined up on a poster with one another was fascinating. It made me wish for a moment that I was teaching 8th grade science again. It also convinced me that if I had to kidnap them to do it, I'm taking my Young Women hiking this summer. (I might have to. My 16 year-old neice said of their own trip to the parks, as we were showing our pictures around, "That was the worst vacation ever!" She did not just say it once. )

This is Bryce Canyon near sunset. We were going to head out earlier that afternoon, but the sunrise had been so amazing that we decided to have one day that we didn't drive at all and wait for the sun to go down. Alas, after a gorgous morning, the clouds rolled in that afternoon and we didn't see anything more interesting than a wonderful couple from New Zealand. It was our day in Bryce that really convinced me not to miss the kids--sunrise hike, late breakfast, a rigorous mid-morning hike, afternoon nap and a very late supper after more hiking. One day, when the kids don't need their routines and hovering parents quite so much, this will be exactly the vacation that we'll take. It will be a few years.

It is so easy to photoshop things now that if I hadn't been there that day to witness it myself, I would be absolutely convinced that these photos from mid-morning in Bryce Canyon had been doctored up to make the sky that color of blue. They have not been. It really was that blue. I've never seen anything like it. The clarity it gave me was equally sublime. Several of these shots are from a hike called the Navajo Trail. Plantboy once had a backpacking magazine that ranked it on a list of 100 best hikes in the US, with some contributors arguing that it was the BEST hike in the entire continental US. They may be right.

More from the Navajo Trail. It wasn't until that day that I understood why The North Face called the color of my jacket Sky Blue.

We hiked portions of the Rim Trail at Bryce several times in a 24 hour period: our camp site was just fifty yards down from it. Before sunset we hiked almost as high as inspiration point then hoofed it back down just in time to see clouds instead of any kind of sunset. This is such a cool shot with the hoodoo formations in the background and those tree roots surviving against all practical chances.

We were there early enough in the season that you can still see ice forming in the mud. The tracks above are ice patterns in the soft, red earth. It is a micorcausm of the millions of years of freeze and thaw that have created the amazing landscape at Bryce Canyon. No wonder early man went to the tops of the mountains to commune with God.

A tree with a second tree growing out of it in the slot canyon at the bottom of the Navajo Trail: Sunset Point side.

Again, real sky. In many places we could still see quite a lot of snow too. I've never seen such vibrate colors--blue, white, orange, green--in a natural place before.

Natural arch over the switchbacks on the Navajo Trail. I was so short I didn't even have to duck going through it.

I just love the late sunrise light on this shot.

Again, cool lighting. I think Plantboy plans to mimic this very tree in his next Bonsai creation. We'll see!

Sunrise. Wow. The wind was very cold that morning and at one point I realized that tears were just spilling out of my eyes. At first I credited the wind entirely, but then I knew that no breeze could make me feel so emotional inside as well. I stood on the lookout listening to the soft cacophony of foreign voices around me and felt such a deep love and connection to all living things that I wept for the beauty of it. Every setback, expense and difficulty was worth that ONE moment. For all the years I've been told that you-have-to-see-Bryce-Canyon-at-sunrise, I'm glad I've never done it before now, and that I was with just Plantboy. He understands things like this; he understands this deep and beauty-loving part of me in a way that nobody I've ever met understands it. He and I are different in many ways, but all of those differences pale compared to being able to feel this way and not having to explain it. It was a glorious morning.

This is at the top of Emerald Pools in Zion National Park. (The third pool.) It was a great hike, moderately strenuous; I imagine it would be quite brutal in July, but the coolness of the water was nice. If we'd had two days I think I would have attemtped Angel's Landing, but I'm glad we picked this instead. Not as scary.

At the mouth of the narrows, a very large blue heron was looking for a meal just a few yards away from where I sat on a rock. This was about the only shot we got and it really doesn't do it justice; the light was fading. The reality is that he was gorgeous and had a huge wingspan.

Plantboy and I waded in the frigid water while he stared longingly up the too-deep Narrows and dreamed, no doubt, of a time in the future when he'll bring his three adventurous boys back to this spot and keep going right up the creek. I think Mom will come too.

A shot at Zion Park. We were constantly shedding and adding layers throughout the day, never quite sure if we were warm or cold.

The top fall at Emerald Pools.

I'm such a geology freak, and the ripples in the stone at the bottom of this waterfall just made me so happy. I love seeing natural processes of the past and speculating about what the geologic footprint of similar processes would look like. I think this one is proof.

This shot, no doubt, is how emerald pools got its name.

When I realized the mistake at our first bed and breakfast, we saw this charming place off the side of the road in Rockville, a very small town just before Springdale (at the mouth of Zion Canyon). On a whim, we whipped into it and sure enough, she had plenty of rooms. She was waiting only on a German couple (who were about our age and very cool; we ran into them at Bryce two days later also) and threw in a free room upgrade because of our bad luck and long day. Breakfast was fantastic and generous and her decorating was amazing. In the summer, the Desert Thistle has a pool with a ton of deck furniture as well. Yes, I'm making a plug for them. When you go, tell them we sent you; she said she'd give you a 10% discount. They lived their lives in the airforce and she is from Scotland. They were full of fascinating and hilarious stories.

No pictures of the inside, but you can link to their site to see more. Absolutely charming.

These pictures are from Kolob Canyons, which is the northwest entrance of ZNP. Nobody really goes there and it is very remote. I'd love to go back when it is a little bit drier and earlier in the day and go in a couple of miles deeper. It was getting dark and fairly chilly on us and so we didn't go in as far as we would have liked. Apparently there are a couple of arches up there and some really great slot canyons. It is just south of Cedar City and only a few minutes off the highway. A great day trip.

Bryce again, in the late afternoon. This is a bit out of place from where the others were, but it is just too gorgeous to leave out.

These are some shots of my adorable children in the new clothes grandma bought for them (not the baby--he is in his grubbies) just before we loaded up to come home and at a really nice state park we found in Idaho to picnic at.

A last word on memory: eleven years ago, I was trying desperately to get a fresh start and was helping my mom with some spring cleaning. I pulled tons of junk out of my room that had all been moved when my parents moved, but between college and mission I hadn't taken time to really decide what needed keeping and what needed tossing. There was a stack of letters from someone I had once loved in the pile of things-I-didn't-quite-know-what-to-do-with. They were tied with a silk ribbon. I held the stack in my hands for a long time.
Then I took the whole pile and threw them in the trash. No soul-cleansing bonfire, no keeping them for a good laugh some five or ten or twenty years later, no re-reading them and breaking down into a storm of weeping. I just threw them out.
Poignant memories, I quickly learned, are not so easily discarded. The letters were gone, but my heart was still tender. Just five months later I met Plantboy and began making memories to help heal. I was pleasantly surprised to feel less pain about the old memories, even as new ones too their place. There were times I could even look back on the good days and genuinely smile. My last trip to southern Utah was with that someone-I-once-loved. How grateful I was this week for the chance to form new and happier connections to such beautiful places.
Our last alone-vacation spot was at the Timpanogas temple. The snowstorm and side-trip to Manti had set us back timewise and Plantboy and I decided to do proxy sealings instead of an entire endowment session. As he and I knelt on behalf of others, I felt the power of those covenants that he and I made nearly ten years ago. The workers at the temple were so kind and congratulatory over our ten measley years--there were enough gray-hairs in the room that we were, no doubt, in the presence of decades upon decades of covenant marriages--that it gave me immense hope for the future. There are unlimited numbers of memories yet to make.


FoxyJ said...

That was a beautiful post. I think we'll have to check out southern Utah some time; I lived in the state for so long without ever going exploring! I'm glad you guys had a good trip, even with the little mishaps.

Sherry said...

I think we are going to either Bryce or Canyonlands for our anniversary. You have pretty much sealed the deal.

Also, I've heard/seen snippets of various news sources lately about Columbine and how the original assumptions about why the boys went on their killing spree were all wrong. I have found it particularly interesting.

Jenny said...

What a lovely post! We took our family to most of those places and some different last August. It was our most amazing family vacation ever. I appreciate your reverence for these spots--I felt the same way. We have a son going off to college in the fall, and he talks of going back. Our youngest is four, and he wants to know how we can save enough money as quickly as possible to go back. I love that they felt the reverence for that area of God's world, too.

I lived near Columbine for most of my developing years, and was far away and raising three small children when it happened. The columbine has always been my favorite flower, but now it holds bitter sentiments for me. How can we know about these dark days and not allow them to change us?

Thanks again for your tender thoughts.

The Grahams said...

What an amazing trip and beautiful pictures. You're such a great writer, your posts take me in every time. Let's plan a trip of our own someday, just a quick little weekend reunion, what do you say??

Caitlin said...

The pictures are so beautiful. I have never been to southern Utah so I thank you for sharing your vacation. I am glad that you didn't "blow up" in your car, that wouldn't have been very cool.

Brooke said...

What a great trip... I love Capitol Reef, and did a huge painting of Hickman Bridge several years ago. I also love Torrey. I also love Fruita. And basically I wish I had been on your trip with you! You are great photographers, and great adventurers. So glad you got to go!!!

Cathy said...

So much that I could comment on, especially your remark about Plantboy appreciating and sharing your particular flavor of the love of beauty. That struck a chord since I am similarly blessed; I also remember the searching process as I sadly discovered that others could be deeply touched by beauty in a way that was NOT like me and not even compatible with me. What made me smile though was a memory of a time I torched some old letters compassing many sentimental years. The difference was that they were letters I'd written, not my old boyfriend. He'd stored them in a shoebox. I hoped they'd be a record of years I hadn't kept a journal but they instead stood as a testament of gooey sentimentality. I tried to burn them but a shoebox crammed with paper isn't all that flammable--it's too dense to really flame up. They were thoroughly charred but not burned, and I lost patience. I poured water on so I could safely throw them away, sliming my parent's barbecue grill where I'd endeavored to burn them, and then just chucked the bundle. Talk about anti-climactic.

emandtrev said...

Wow--incredible pictures! Your trip looks like it was terrific. Maybe once my wee one is just a tad bit older, we'll pack up the car and enjoy some similar sights!

For me, it doesn't matter how much time has passed since the Columbine tragedy, it still gives me pause and sends shivers down my spine. It is one of those horrible events that I will always remember where I was at and what I was doing when I heard about it.

Sunnie said...

the pictures from your trip are beautiful! what fun to have your husband there with you, in such a beautiful place.

Slyck and Slim said...

I am so glad you got to go on a great vacation alone together! Your pictures were awesome and brought back so many memories -- as a kid nearly every vacation was to southern Utah. My Dad was a John C. Freemont and we went to the very remotest places we could find, sometimes not seeing another person as we explored the area for days. My brother was a trail guide in Bryce Canyon for years and still leads hunting parties there for bobcat. Your pictures were stunning and some could be in magazines!

chris w said...

Glad you guys got to have such a great trip together. Very nicely reminisced.. :)