I find that traveling to remote areas, nestled in a wild and wonderful wilderness, often fuels my work, experience and overall well-being. It is this feeling of being small and nestled amidst the most magical of things that I often pull from when pushing paint along the surface of a canvas. Enormity — exquisite and terrifying — yawns overhead and beneath foot. Control collapses into itself for once, proving that it is but a foolhardy illusion. It is this feeling of being disconnected from technology, but at once so completely — profoundly — connected, that I seek.
This fall, we embarked upon a river trip that we’ve done numerous times now. And each time, it’s different. We may follow the carved path of the river through the same weathered canyons — passing named buttes and side canyons — but each trip is vastly different. Weather, for one, can completely change the experience. Wind storms, mud storms (yes — only Utah could concoct such dramatic weather), sand storms, intense rain followed by red canyon waterfalls, thunder that shudders one’s bone structure with deafening bass, sunshine that is so hot that it cooks your skin, frozen stillness that congeals and forms deep pools within your ear canals. We’ve experienced all of this.
This particular trip takes us to the Utah desert — serpentine canyons in riotous reds and oranges overtake the horizon once one sinks into the clay-scented water of the river. Each day is simple: follow the watery path ahead. Focused on only the most basic of tasks. Eating. Breaking down camp. Packing boats. Paddling. Setting up camp. Eating. Sleeping. Simplistic on the surface, it always seems. But the work is hard. One fights the initial drop into a slower rhythm. The silence can be deafening, as we are so accustomed to the constant drum of machinery forming something we lovingly call “white noise.” The silence of canyon country is immense — the flapping of crow wings far off in the distance becomes the loudest sound one might hear… for days.
The smell. The wet earth oozes into everything, creating this scent of terra that, no matter how many times one washes their clothing post-trip, can never strip the fabric of it. And a deep inhalation of that smell always brings be back in the earthen belly of the canyon.
One element that always surprises me is how uncomfortable one can be. And how one has to get comfortable with that notion. In our climate-controlled environment with the perfect adjustment of the perfect blend of humidity and temperature, we are never uncomfortable for longer than a few minutes. To be in the desert means that one must be prepared for the huge swing of temperatures… 95 degrees midday will surely drop to 50 degrees at night, as the rocky environment releases all heat (that felt inescapable at one time), once the sun dips below a craggy horizon line.
The skies. At night, there is no watercolor wash of orange that stains the lens of a starry sky — it is all inky and crystalline with a million blazes blazing overhead. I noticed that the moon was a different color out there. Used to the ochre stain of our city skies, a pure white moon is pristine and exquisite.
This trip was a little different than all others. We were excited to bring our three-year-old. Excitement doesn’t quite cover it. Terrified, but knowing that it would be an important experience. And she loved it. As her mama, I am so used to controlling things — ensuring that she is comfortable and has everything that she needs when she needs it. I imagine the possible things ahead of us and imagine how I can help her have the best experience. But out there… there is no control. There is weather and water and wildness. And wind. Oh, the wind. And she leaned into it so beautifully. My daughter, caked in mud, played on the beaches, threw sticks and rocks into the clay-colored water and got lost in her wild imagination. It was so beautiful to watch as it has been a dream of ours to bring her for years… much longer than the three that she has been here for.
This trip is always a journey. Wild. As we paddle through silent and snaking labyrinths and explore ancient stone cathedrals, I think to myself how important this place is. There aren’t words that we’ve designed that could ever come close to carrying the enormity of how much I love these places. No sound, uttered, could ever express the weight that this place carries. It is easy to sink into our daily plugged-in rhythms and lose our connection to these wild places. To fall asleep amidst the vacuum of the plastic white noise that entombs us. To experience light and dark by the artificial rays in our artificial spaces. And that’s what we’ve become, for better or for worse. Which is why, whenever one can, they should journey out there. To a place wild and free.