Awe-importance

Lately I’ve been magnetically drawn to the idea that, as humans, we need to regularly experience awe: it has a positive – even transcendent – effect on our perspectives, lives, and relationships. It’s heartening to see that this eternal truth – something poets, writers, great thinkers, and outdoorsfolk have taught us through the ages – getting more of an intellectual and scientific platform.

Awe: what is it? Per this Psychology Today article on the latest studies, it can be defined as  “that sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.”

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Yeah… that.

In literary terms, this is what is called the sublime. The sublime is the counterpart of the beautiful. It is greatness: something bigger, deeper, and more endless than anything else.

And what is most compelling about sublimity, and about awe, is that it does not necessarily have to be inspired by something physically big. No: connectedness, too, creates awe.

I’m convinced that one of the biggest contributors to hopelessness is a shrunken sense of the world. In the context of inner depression and external oppression, it’s an apparent enough symptom. Or, perhaps it is a cause; or, perhaps it is both, causing a vicious cycle of trying to escape from that gloom and failing to, something all too familiar to anyone who has experienced either depression or oppression (or both).

But seeing and trying to comprehend anything massively sublime is enough to radically alter your perspective.

This is what happens when we see the ocean after months of being landlocked, or find ourselves beneath a deeply starry sky free of city lights. Unexpectedly, knowing that we are very small – a piece of a larger puzzle, one design element in a larger framework – somehow makes life more meaningful; more manageable.

To me, mountains and oceans have this effect every time. But this symbolic act of atonement at Standing Rock also had made me realize how much beyond-ness there is, even on a daily basis.

This week, I turned 26. The gravity of that number – of moving past my mid-twenties into the late ones – was weighty. But perhaps I let it be heavier than it was. As a symbolic act, I chose to visit the town where I effectively grew up, and absorb that energy.

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While there, I chose to walk along a favorite trail whose expansive view – and steepness, mind – never fails to take my breath away. As for the drive itself, somehow I had forgot about the way the mountains framed the journey, just peripherally but all the same, extraordinarily, too. The traffic I waded through, and the time it took to finally catch a glimpse, was well worth it. For what did I feel filling my heart but this true sense of awe, this sense that the tiny crowded spaces are not all there is?

For some reason, it prompted me to remember these words:

This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond –
Invisible, as Music –
But positive, as Sound –
It beckons, and it baffles –
Philosophy, dont know –
And through a Riddle, at the last –
Sagacity, must go –
To guess it, puzzles scholars –
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown –
Faith slips – and laughs, and rallies –
Blushes, if any see –
Plucks at a twig of Evidence –
And asks a Vane, the way –
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit –
Strong Hallelujahs roll –
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul –

Emily Dickinson

While we don’t always recognize the exact what beyond our awe, part of its compellingness is that intangible quality. We see the mountains, and cannot help but stare at every ridge and shadow, slowly comprehending, and yet never coming close to true comprehension. It comes in waves, in moments; it washes over in its complexity, but does not stay, and that is life – to continue to seek it out in completion. Someday, perhaps.

 

Those miles, to me, represented a vastness that ties us together. And beyond that, the human capability of enduring even in difficult circumstances because of our connectedness to one another.

That is awe-inspiring. That is worth remembering, always.

Eastward expansion*, part 2

*My filmmaking friend (and fellow East coaster) Brittany gave me this phrase, in case you’re wondering. She a forward-thinking, fun, and talented producer/photographer/videographer who is also kick-ass at life and at being a friend. I do not exaggerate when I say that I would not have survived California without her.

Today, she came to mind because I am thinking about the ways we need each other, and especially how being honest about that need makes it possible to experience what may have seemed very not-possible.

This part of the story is a little longer, but only because I don’t know how I could extricate one part from the rest. But I do know that Rogerson Service came first.

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Rogerson is also apparently home to the second best water in the country. Coming from Cali, ya, I’d say it was pretty righteous

That place is the best dang gas station in the United States (probably). But, I imagine that if you’re reading, you’re wondering what a service station/café/convenience store has to do with anything. That’s not unlike what I wondered when we stopped there to look for firewood on our way to Lud Drexler Park.

It turned out to be more relevant than relevant – a piece of Magic Valley magic, perhaps? – as it was where an amazing, hardworking woman named Terri hooked us up with two nights’ worth of logs, no charge, courtesy of her friend who had just chopped it that day. Magic, indeed. Not sure I’ve ever slept as well as I did that night.

Everything took a turn after that encounter. For one thing, since our campsite was a different one than I’d initially planned, we were slightly ahead of schedule. Eastern Montana was the intended stop, for no real reason other than the romanticization of Montana. So why not, instead, pass through part of Montana on the way to Yellowstone?

yellowstone pines

yellowstone stream
cleansing in every sense

Why not? It’s only the most unparalleled preservation of beauty in the U.S.

It was rivaled, though, by Granite Pass. As we continued on to Sheridan, our route included this tricky, treacherous path through the Bighorn Mountains, and layers of ancient (truly, beyond ancient) sedimentary rock. It was terrifying, steep as the grades were, but fascinating and fun to learn about the different ages of the rocks that surrounded us. I guess, technically, most of the rock out there is prehistoric, but every section of it was marked here. Plus, how many areas can claim to be the home of certain dinosaur fossils? That alone was worth the danger. We might have missed out on a real marvel, otherwise.

granite pass
Photo courtesy of another blogger at Lincoln Highway Ride (http://www.lincolnhighwayride.com) because my hands were gripping the steering wheel too tight to snap one of my own

I read after getting back that the Bighorn Mountains are considered sacred to the Cheyenne. It’s easy to see why.

We skipped camping that night in favor of knowing where exactly we were. Even that had its unexpected pleasures, albeit smaller in scale. Java Moon was the main one: should you find yourself in Sheridan, this place and its DIY oatmeal are a must. And maybe finding yourself in Sheridan is a good idea in itself – we loved what we saw of the small town. It seemed like a remnant of a West that maybe only exists in our collective memory.

Or maybe it’s real, and vibrant, and filled with the most unexpected of people and places. That’s what will stick with me, anyway.

Places in this post:

Eastward expansion, part 1

Now that I’m about 2700 miles away from where I spent the last year, I’m sort of swimming in the retrospect. It almost feels as if that year in Orange County was an extended road trip. Since getting back to Virginia, I’ve kept stumbling over this sense that almost no time has passed, and I’m just picking up where I left off last October. That maybe, after my mom and I drove to Irvine and she flew back to Northern Virginia, my dad met up with me in Thousand Oaks just a week later, and we drove back together.

It’s an idea I find interesting in a lot of contexts: what if the reality you think you’re living is not entirely … real? If perception is reality, then this is both true and untrue.

This sense also may be a sense that comes with the territory when you travel through a thousand towns in the space of a week or less. And at a time of year, too, that drags along with it a particular breed of nostalgia that no one can seem to escape.

Road trips, man. They make you think. (Maybe too much. Or maybe not enough.)

abandoned train

My dad (Tom!) and I left Southern California on a Friday; on that Friday, we landed in Mammoth Lakes. We had our first (gentle) encounter with plans and un-plans there. (For this trip, anyway.)

It started with our campsite, Lower Deadman: I found out just a few days before our departure that it was closed. Apparently, it likes to snow in the mountains. That was easy to solve, though: we just decided to look for a new one once we were near Mammoth.

hot springs sunset

Once we arrived to the beautiful gorgeous place, no exaggerations, we started asking around about the Hilltop Hot Springs. We ended up finding not only the route, thanks to the clerk at the health food store, but also the Mammoth Brewing Company. Not exactly a secret spot, but not a place either of us had heard of, either. In an age of Internet research and experiential travel, that’s kind of refreshing. Serendipitous.

We didn’t taste but a few, but if you get the chance to try the fruits of their labor, I heartily recommend their seasonal beers, especially the Owens Valley Wet Harvest Ale. I thought it was the perfect fall beer – a black IPA with just enough bite and a warm, toasty finish. Just be sure to be really hydrated if you’re drinking it at altitude. (Another new lesson I learned…)

As for the Hot Springs, they can be found by turning off the 395 by a green church just south of the Mammoth Lakes airport. If you drive down the dirt road and pass two cattle grates, at the bottom of a hill, there they will be. Not to be missed if you’ve been hiking, skiing, or sitting in a car all day (ouch).

hot springs folks

And you probably will be sharing the space, so get ready for good conversations with strangers, which was what we got, too. I always get nervous at those kinds of situations, anticipating what people will think, but maybe everyone gets like that. Either way, there was no need: our group was wonderfully relaxed, welcoming, and happy. We even got to meet the Internet-famous Anais + Dax (pictured above!).

Planning the trip was exciting, perhaps only because I didn’t have much else to do at the time, but each day, I learned again that the best parts are the detours that you could never plan. A platitude? Sure. But a true one. Maybe that’s why it’s a platitude at all.

Part two to come!

People and places in this post: