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I. The Magician

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I. The Magician

Rider-Waite tarot card

Rider-Waite tarot card

 Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.

(Helaman 10:7)

Mormon Tarot (mormontarot.com) 

Mormon Tarot (mormontarot.com) 

As Above, So Below.

What once was Above—here—was 2500 feet of water. We are at the bottom of the Western Interior Seaway. It’s no wonder that a lot of people don’t have quite enough oxygen to breathe.

When you stand on the valley floor you can see that it’s the ocean. Sagebrush now, instead of seaweed, but it’s the same idea. Rustling wind instead of rushing currents. Flocks of wheeling birds, instead of schools of reeling fish.

(In the stars, I swear I saw the form of a giant, ghostly plesiosaur.)

“Time, and how she moves” by Ryan Perkins

“Time, and how she moves” by Ryan Perkins

As Above, So Below. God gave us gifts and I, for one, am determined to use them. It’s a form of consecration to render art to the service of God. I never thought I’d be the one to do something like this, but I’m the Desert Prophet now, I suppose, and almost all prophets are reluctant.

It’s the Magician’s job to make the desert blossom as the rose, and we’re doing it. Of course, I wouldn’t call new developments a “blossom”, per se, but above our heads is the Infinity Sign of the Land of Milk and Honey, and below our feet is swiftly blooming, failing flowers, and around our waists is a rattlesnake devouring its own tail, and thus unable to hear its own warning.

The Desert Prophet Somewhere in the Great Basin

The Desert Prophet Somewhere in the Great Basin

by me. 

by me. 

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Salt

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Salt

Sing me a song of your vast salty spaces, of your sagebrush, sand, and stars. 

God is always sending people into the wilderness. To the tops of mountains or into the desert for 40 years, to the great salty steppes of the Great Salt Lake valley. To learn what can be learned only in a wilderness, under blasted earth and blasted sky.

The sky tonight is no less than J. Alfred's evening painted and spread across a table. It hangs over the flats and the water in a periwinkle haze—is that the right word?—cavernous space, now that's the only word, space, with so much sky, so much salt, so much water, and as the water is a reflection of the sky the world is suddenly fractured and doubled—!

The ring of mountains holds it in. But only tenuously, just on the edges, blue bumps on the horizon, and if they weren't there the sky would fall into the water. 

God's always sending people into the wilderness and maybe Robert Smithson is no different. "Go," He said, "Go out into the desert and create thy work." Which is why we've got a spiral out into the middle of nowhere, a black spiral in the pink and white sand, in the algae and salt lie volcanic rocks (to my untrained eye volcanic), a spiral on the flats on the water. 

To walk the spiral is a meditation. A religious experience if you're so inclined, to worship at the altars of God or Art or Nature or maybe at some mix of the three. Like those labyrinths in churchyards whose journey is more important than the destination—pick your way across the white sand and black stones, there's nothing at the center but if you were looking for something maybe you should go back and start again. 

The sand's filling in the spaces between the black stones, scattering, burying. Process and decay are implicit, Andy Goldsworthy said—but this is a Smithson, not a Goldsworthy, and I don't know how he'd feel about his creation sinking into the salt desert. 

But he meant to sink his creation underwater anyway. He built it during a dry year—it spent the next 20 underwater. Now the salt sea is kept mostly at bay, held off by the slightest incline at 30 feet back—a choppy mirror mixing the teal and pink and orange colors of the sky into a dull lavender. 

The moon's pasted on the horizon like a child's transfer sticker, full and orange, transparent and wan.

And the only thing left to do is to walk into the great salt sea that's named this region. The water in this half of the lake is pink from algae, the same temperature as your body, and so shallow you can walk out 100 feet before it starts to go up your calves. Only later will it start to sting and cake salt on your legs—for now, to walk into this water is to walk into infinity. 

God always send people into the wilderness, into vast salty spaces where they can lose their minds. 

But the thing about space—spare, sandy, salty space—is that it does such a good job of existing that when you're there you have no choice but to exist too. Because, well—there is nowhere to hide under that much sky. There is nowhere to hide on that barren ground.

And as the land is what it is, so must you be too.

God is always sending people into the wilderness. Because—well, as they say—because he who loses his life shall find it, now isn't that something....?

All photos by my perfect sister Julia, who doesn't have a website or even an instagram to link to. What a shame.

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A True Occurrence in the Sagebrush Steppe of Central Utah, or, Ghost Camping

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A True Occurrence in the Sagebrush Steppe of Central Utah, or, Ghost Camping

Welcome to a 100% true scary story that occurred when I and several friends decided to go camping at one of Utah’s many ghost towns.

 

Allow me to introduce THE PLAYERS:

KAT, small and exceedingly clever human, usually seen wearing something black and skintight. Enjoys anatomically perfect animal illustration and amateur taxidermy. Definitely knows how to skin a rabbit.

JASON, solid, bearded human. Solid in personality too. Chemist, ceramic artist, and future dentist. Really good at making omelettes. Bonus fact: Married to Kat.

ROANOKE, Kat and Jason's scrubby teenage mid-content wolfdog. Prone to laziness, wandering, ambivalence toward people, and looking creepy when the light hits his eyes just right.

THICKET, Kat and Jason’s four-week-old coyote puppy. Pretty much a useless bean at this point. Spent the duration of this story in her little den under the passenger seat of Kat and Jason’s truck.

JOEY, extraordinarily tall and skinny human (read: so much limbs), good-natured and wildly creative. Often stops dead in the middle of conversation, whispers “I trust you,” and trust-falls backwards. 

and ME, extremely average-sized human (if a bit on the scrawny side). Read too much Edgar Allan Poe in high school and likes spooky things only in theory; is actually a huge weenie.

 

All this occurred on THE STAGE:

The ghost town of Latuda, an early 1900's mining town in Utah’s scrubby sagebrush steppe, five miles up the canyon from the small (living) town of Helper. Inadvertently,  the night of the full moon.

 

And the reason we’re here is THE GOAL: 

Experience something spooky.

 

  

We came to visit the ghost town Latuda—up here in a creepy canyon full of abandoned buildings. I was scared even coming up here—I saw a family of five walking down a trail on a family hike and I felt a bit more okay.

Joey and I had driven down together but separately from Kat and Jason. During the hour-and-a-half drive down Spanish Fork Canyon he and I listened to music and talked about the physics of love and gravity. The views down the canyon were incredible—though I feel like I spent half of the drive trying to craft an Instagram caption instead of looking out the window. We almost ran out of gas halfway through and had a tense 19 mile countdown to a gas station in the middle of nowhere.

Phone service was terrible and Kat and Jason got a bit ahead of us—when we finally rolled into Helper we got a text from them to meet at the Pick and Rail Market off the main road—we saw their red truck in the parking lot but the couple sitting inside was in their 60s at least—“How long did we keep them waiting??” Joey asked. After the imposter truck drove away we decided they had gone up the canyon without us, and went to follow suit...

After several miles up the canyon we saw the real red truck driving toward us—“You guys, we found buildings, it’s spooky,” Kat said when they stopped. We all drove up the canyon, started seeing odd buildings on our right, odd concrete and brick, fallen apart things that gave into the winds and skies when their human owners departed—but we passed them for now, and drove to the road the map said was the entrance of Latuda...

Blocked...by a giant fallen tree. A giant dry twisty thing with silver bark and scattered branches everywhere. Totally obstructing the road to our ghost town goal. 

That wasn't going to stop four intrepid ghost hunters, though. The sun had gone down in the valley and now it was actually getting quite dark. I gave Kat my leggings to put over her shorts, everyone grabbed a flashlight or a headlamp, and we climbed over and around the tree and set off on the trail...

We were ghost hunting but we had a little ghost following us. Roanoke the teenage wolfdog, acting odd and skittish with a white light glowing from his collar so we could find him easily and flat green disks reflecting from his eyes when the headlamps hit him right. I found it odd that he was acting so reluctant and scared, hanging back 20 feet or so like he was—but Kat said he's lazy, Kat said he's weird whenever he's in a new area and besides, he had never gone hiking at night—it was only later that we realized the light on his collar was actually blinding him.

We went up the dirt and gentle climb. I wasn't worried too much about either ghosts or trespassing because the ground was filled with footprints and horse dung—though honestly the supernatural element was the primary concern. It was dark but a full moon was rising, yellow as old lace and turning the color of the sky around it red. Jase had a big light that was sometimes white and sometimes orange—Joey had a flashlight, Kat had a headlamp, and I tried not to be the last one in the pack.

We didn't really know where we were going—we passed one abandoned, falling-apart structure but didn't see any others. A stone that looked like a giant skull in the last fading light of evening. Keep shining your flashlight down the ravine—see if you see anything.

The wind blew alternatively hot and cold. Roanoke still hung back twenty feet—shouldn’t that be telling us something? Eventually we stopped—how much farther? The map said we had passed the spot where there was supposed to be a ghost town—"Is it out there in that dark mass that's absorbing all the light?" Jason asked, shining his floodlight into an especially dense blackness at the top of the hill. At that moment a cold wind blew.

That was too much. Back down the hill we went.

It was spooky, sure. But it wasn't...too spooky at this point.  

As we went down the hill the conversation turned less tense and more ordinary. No ghosts up the canyon tonight—at least not that we could see. Maybe we could go down the road and visit some of those old buildings we had passed on the way in.

As we rounded one of the final bends I gave Joey my water bottle to hold onto for a second. I took it back and chatted with Kat and Jason about camping—we turned off the light on Roanoke's collar (making him suddenly start acting a lot less weird—poor guy had been blinded), and at last we made it to our giant broken tree blocking the path, our cars on the other side.

Jason shone his light high up onto the broken branches so Kat and I could find our way across. As we picked our way across the gray branches, Jase suddenly asked… "Where's Joey?" 

Kat and I stopped and turned. Jase stood alone on the path. One, two, three—there were only three of us there amongst the sagebrush, under the white light of the moon. Joey was simply...gone.  

"Joey!” Jason voice echoed off the canyon walls. “Joey! joey! joey..."

Had something happened to him back on the trail? Had he fainted, or fallen into a ditch, or gotten carried away? People don’t just disappear like this, don’t just vanish without a trace. 

I mean, except in horror movies, I guess.

We started back up the trail, to go back and look for him. Where was the last time we had seen him? The last time I knew was when I had handed him my water bottle when we rounded that bend...

We heard something snapping twigs in the brush.  

We all froze. Jason shined his light down on the sagebrush down by the fallen tree. So this is how it ends? I imagined whatever natural or supernatural being that had snatched Joey emerging from the brush and snatching us too.

"It's just baby coyote,” Jason said after a long pause. "Making noise in the car."

I didn’t believe him. But there was no use standing here staring. 

We started up the trail again. Jason shone his light into the brush. We all called his name. "Joey! Joey! Joey! Joey!" I thought about how silly it was that we were shouting such a juvenile-sounding name for a grown man. I wondered if any other campers heard us, what they would think we were doing. I prayed, "Dear God, please help us to find our friend."

The moon shone.

We went back up to the place where I definitively remembered last seeing him. The curve in the road where I had handed him my water bottle.  

There was absolutely no trace.  

"Joey!" Jason shouted again, and I will never forget the sound of that name echoing off the canyon walls.

There were three parts of me. The first part thought something natural (but still terrible) had happened to him. He had been attacked by a wild animal, he had gone off the path and fallen down a ravine. He was hurt or unconscious, he couldn’t hear or answer our very audible cries. “Fainting can happen so quickly,” Kat kept saying. But if he had fainted on the trail, then where was his body? Where were the marks in the dirt of him being dragged off into the brush? But the trail was undisturbed and empty. There was nothing but sand and sagebrush and sky.

The part of me that believed this wanted to go back to Helper and call the police. Find him with searchlights and dogs more worth their salt than Roanoke, who was still trailing behind us like a reluctant teenager. I imagined a group of volunteers with floodlights combing this brushy hill, calling out Joey's name.

The second part of me thought that maybe he was playing a prank. Maybe even that Kat and Jason were in on it. “Did you know anything about this? Did you…?" But they said they weren't, and when Jason asked about it, I thought about his fake trust falls and said "He's kind of a prankster, but not this kind of prankster." It's not that funny, is it, when your friends are calling your name so loud it echoes off the mountains, when your friends are talking about calling the police? Yes he's a prankster, but would he really take it that far? 

And the third part of me thought that it was something supernatural. We were looking for a ghost town, after all—and Joey had disappeared completely, and without a trace. What had taken him? And which of us would be next?

This part of me only prayed to God that it would not be me.

These three parts of me were absolutely, completely equal as we walked in the light of the moon and the blue up the path of a sagebrush mountain, calling into the night.

After we reached the bend where we had last seen Joey for certain, Jase's light suddenly started to die. It was too creepy, it was too much. “Let’s just go back,” I said. Go check out the cars, go to town maybe. Call the police, hopefully.

We had made it partly down the hill when Jase's dying floodlight lit upon the cars. The doors of Joey's silver car were open.  

And then

we saw

 from the back of Kat and Jason's dark red car 

two twisted hands.

First one hand, then two hands, twist grotesquely from behind the car onto the roof. Joey's hands. I knew those were Joey's hands.

"Joey you motherfu..." Jason began. But then stopped.

Because suddenly a hunched, arched, naked body came into view, and I knew we had three options: 

1) Joey was pranking us

2) Joey was possessed

3) Joey had actually gone crazy.  

In my mind all three options were equally possible.

The body lurched itself into the roof of the car. It was Joey's body—those were his jeans, his shoes scrabbling against the roof of the car, his hair dark and disheveled. It kept its head down and we could not see its face—we could not see its face but I knew if it had blood on its face we were not going to be getting out of here alive.  

Joey—or Joey's half-naked body—lurched and slid across the roof and down the front of the car. Disappearing behind the broken tree that was the only thing separating us from the madman on the other side. Jason threw his stick at it as it slid down the windshield. He missed and it was gone from view.

"Has he actually gone insane?" I asked.

Kat picked up a stick. I held my water bottle, it was my weapon—these sticks were too light to do any damage anyway—

"Fire a shot into the air," Kat said to Jason.

I looked at Jason. A short but solid man, the only thing between us and the distorted thing on the other side of the fallen tree. If there was a fight he could take Joey, couldn't he? But what about possessed Joey? And what about crazy Joey?

So Jason walked down to the car. I watched, my hand on Kat's shoulder—I don't remember putting it there—was he really just walking toward that red car when a lunatic could be slithering underneath it? Who knows where he was at this point— 

I watched Jason approach the car. I watched him open the door. I watched him grab something from the side of it.  

"Into the air," Kat said.

I watched him raise his arm to the right. In his hand there was a silver pistol.

I watched fire burst from the barrel as the shot echoed around the canyon.

The sound faded away.

Suddenly I saw Joey lying on the ground, outside of his silver car. He was wearing a dusty long-sleeved black shirt—did he have that shirt before...?

"Where...where am I," he said.

Jason shone the floodlight into Joey's face. He sat up and blinked into the beam. I couldn't stop staring at his scruffy beard and mustache illuminated in the yellow light.  

Joey and Jason stared at each other for a long time. "What the hell, Joey," Jason said finally.

But I still didn’t know who he was, not really. 

Gradually me and Kat picked our way across the gray tree to the other side with them. I didn't like the way Joey was grinning at me while I crossed. I didn't trust him anymore—was he really possessed, was he really crazy?

It took several minutes for the charade to fall. I only knew it was a prank for sure when Joey said "I had a wig I was going to bring, but I forgot..."

  "Dude," Kat said   "We almost shot you."

It took awhile for all of us to finally settle down. Jason had legitimately been about to shoot Joey, for goodness sake. Kat hadn't even known it was him—she thought a random crazy man had ransacked our cars. And I, knowing that I am actually a huge weenie, was shocked at how calm I had been. 

And Roanoke? He was useless.

Eventually the details came out. Joey slipped away and crawled through the bushes just moments before Jason noticed he was missing. He hasn't been planning on doing this exactly, but the whole time he had planned on doing something...

After it was all done he came up and hugged me. "I'm normal again."

“I don’t trust you,” I said. 

We decided that was enough terror for one day—the abandoned buildings could wait till tomorrow—and went about setting up camp. It was a simple thing of building a fire and setting up one tent—Joey and I sat on the bed of Kat and Jason's truck while he held the coyote pup and I ate summer sausage and fed it to Roanoke for tricks. We built a fire and burned sagebrush on it, which smoked like incense to another world and lit up the sky with more sparks than what was strictly comfortable. I pulled out my guitar and played every song I had chords for on my phone, to varying degrees of success—but however mediocre my singing or guitar playing, Kat asked me what a few songs were and said she liked the songs I had chosen, and I kept seeing Jason watching me in the firelight.

So now we're all bedded down for the night. Kat and Jason in the bed of their truck, Joey stretched out in his car, and me, alone in the tent with my favorite teenage mutant ninja wolfdog for company.

I'm laying in a mesh tent under the light of a full moon. Roanoke is curled to the right of my feet—the green light on his collar flashing at slow intervals. That's not the only light in the night tonight—the fire is an orange glow through the walls of the tent. The light of the moon is whitish blue.

The moon is shining full and bright and I sometimes think I can hear creatures in the broken tree behind my tent. I didn't know if I'd be able to sleep so I thought I might as well write out the events of the evening.

I prayed to my Lord and my God in thanks that we're all safe, in thanks that I found my friend. That everything was okay after all. 

And you know...

I didn’t mean to still be here this late in the summer. I meant to be somewhere far far away, in a new city with a new job, building a whole new life. But as scared as I am of having a career that doesn't go anyplace, of being someone that amounts to nothing—this was the kind of night that is unforgettable, and maybe it's not such a bad thing to spend summer in Utah after all…?

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Everything Fits Together

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Everything Fits Together

I'm sitting on the wood steps of my new house. It's been almost a week now since I've come home. Yes I can talk about it and I can tell stories but as I discussed with Josh last night nothing in my mind is settled. I hope it's still processing there in my subconscious behind the scenes cause when I had that FaceTime call with Tammy all I could do was stare at the ceiling and I couldn't say anything, I could hardly even say the words "I Don't Know."

 

 (What can you say after an experience like that?)

 

I came, I saw, I conquered, I freaked out, I conquered again.


I came home.


The reason I'm out here is because the more I tried to put my stuff away in my room, the more I wanted to take a flamethrower to all of it. Who I am now is not who I was in April when I packed up all that stuff. Yes this is my town but I would rather have gone on far far away with a brand new place and brand new things so I could keep moving forward, cause today when I sat in the computer lab the dusty electric scent of the air and the familiar dimmed quality of light felt like whiplash, like I had gone back in time. Not that there was anything wrong with who I was before but you can't have traveled and lived and worked like that and not have become a different person afterwards, and I want to go forward.

 

This summer everything I owned fit in one and a half suitcases and I liked living like that quite a bit. When I carried a shameful amount of stuff out of my storage unit yesterday I vowed to get rid of a third of it. There is no reason one person essentially without a fixed abode should have that much stuff. But as I stand in my whirlwind disaster of a room, throwing clothes and books and paper into the sacrificial pile—should I be getting rid of all that? should I be getting rid of more? Like I said I want to take a flamethrower to everything I own but I know it's no good to burn who you used to be in pursuit of who you're trying to be. Every time I've tried to be something I am not, I learned that I can only be who I am.

 

So what do I throw out? And what do I keep?             

 

When I came home the colors were more vibrant than I ever remember seeing. Today I went up to the mountains and everything smelled like sunlight and dust.

 

Yes Germany was beautiful but I was raised on this stuff.

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I woke up this morning from dreams of Europe just like every other day. I can't believe I've been gone for a week now but things always change so fast. I'm amazed at how quickly the mind can adjust to something, how after only a day or a week or a month a place can seem so known and familiar, or so far away.


This isn't what you were expecting from my Post-IDEO Retrospective. Yeah come talk to me if you want to hear the stories, you know I like to tell them well enough. But this is what's happening now, sitting on the wood porch smelling like summer in the air thinking about who I was and who I am and who I'm going to be.


Like most of us I'm often a nostalgic but I tell you there was a moment at the end of this summer where I stood alone in the white light of my room and saw my life for what it was, a series of overlapping experiences that come and go and are allowed to end. Of course like everyone else I cling to the beautiful things that are gone but for those few hours I was able to let go and see everything fit in its perfect frame of What Is, not What Could Have Been or What Could Be.


This summer I found an artist named David Shrigley on the walls of the modern art museum in München. On that evening standing in the white light his piece came into my mind again, because I think that I get it now—

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One Year Later—9:  pm. (July 24)

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One Year Later—9:  pm. (July 24)

I wrote this in my 13th story Parisian apartment, one year ago to the very hour that I am writing this now. For some reason I didn't post it then but there was no reason not to. So I am posting it now.

Parisian evening, July 24, 2015.

Parisian evening, July 24, 2015.

9:  pm. (July 24)

I said that I wished I could see you again.

Turns out that was grandeur and panic, and that’s not what I really wanted, no, not really.

 

     You realize that you’re not always going to have this view,

     Metal on your chin and a breeze,

     Mr. Porter and the table in the art room.

     There’s a little pigeon drinking water from a puddle down beneath,

     And of course it’s these things that you are always going to remember.

 

How many pieces has my brain forgotten

Because I filled the space behind my eyes with static and tried not to sleep?

I say that I’ll change, and yet every night

I go to bed hungry and wake up feeling hollow.

 

The taste of that apricot and pistachio tarte came back to me all of a sudden.

I’ve only ever seen the clouds as dragons in the sky,

But everyone’s face in Iceland looks the same, and that hurts for some reason.

The air like this makes me think of summer nights in Colorado.

And sometimes when I’m standing at the edge of a window, I have the urge to jump.

Münchner evening, July 24, 2016.

Münchner evening, July 24, 2016.

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Steak Tastes Like Water

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Steak Tastes Like Water

The light is always white in Manchester. 

Steak tastes like water.

"Three beers and—what do you want?"

Steak tastes like water.

I only had one good meal in Manchester.

Steak tastes like water.

"Did you notice how everyone has all these tattoos?"

Steak tastes like water.

Everyone looks like they're trying too hard in Manchester.

Steak tastes like water.

"So what do you think?"

Steak tastes like water.

My mind has never been so blank as staring at the sky in Manchester.

Steak tastes like water.

"It's...Okay. It's Okay."

Steak tastes like water.

I'm pretty sure it's never night in Manchester.

Steak tastes like water.

"Are you doing okay?"

Steak tastes like water.

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