I was on the roof when Austin asked if I wanted a ride to the temple. I asked him what time it started, he said “eight o’clock”. “Oh crap”, I said, “I thought it started at nine, I gotta go!”
That’s great, I thought as I climbed down the narrow ladder from the roof of my camper, I am going to be late to my new life. So I quickly changed my clothes, hopped on my bike and started pedaling through the deep playa dust. Before the man burned it was pretty easy to navigate to the temple, you just found the man jutting out of the dry lake bed and aimed a little to the right. Now I had to follow the 15,000 bicycles, art cars and e-transporters that were all traveling roughly in the same direction.
When the man burns it is a huge celebration and collective fuck you to the status quo. There are hundreds of art cars, tens of thousands of people, loud music and a lot of partying. The vast playa fills with people. In the darkness all are riding bikes or on various forms of mutant vehicles, and everything is lit. Thousands of flashing, glowing and thumping vehicles and people traveling towards the center of Black Rock city. It is like watching fireworks in reverse, the explosion converging on the center.
As this event has gotten larger it has taken on more of a festival atmosphere. Its anarchic nature and embracing of art can be overshadowed by our commodity driven world. Instagram influencers’ pose before the artwork, branding their look and selling their products. More and more there are high end RV villages that house the rich and famous. These look more like sterile well guarded compounds than the open camps and villages that they have displaced. On the playa the young and wealthy, sporting Gucci costumes, are effortlessly propelled through the dust and darkness on electric bikes and half million dollar art cars.
The Temple Burn
This is a more somber affair. It adheres to a tradition that engenders reverence and respect. Because of this and the tactical advantage of leaving the Black Rock early, (avoids the traffic jam during exodus), the Temple burn is not as well attended.
A New Beginning
The temple serves as a ceremonial place to say goodbyes, to let go, to invite the new in. This year I had done all of these. Over the week I had written a series of letters to things I needed to say goodbye to and things I wanted to invite into my life. One clump of these letters had left me profoundly moved. I had sat in the middle of the temple with tears, and loss, and some regrets. I had decided that this opportunity to be here, to participate in this infant ceremony, was were I would delineate the start of my new life. What better way and place than a public display of grief in a place where judgement and money had been traded for personal exploration and gifting.
And it was looking like I might be late to my new life. The temple burns exactly on time, whereas the man burns after all the hoopla ends. I found the temple, (it was not difficult). And made my way to a spot on the perimeter. The moment I sat down the fire began at the South end of the temple. With help from accelerants and a lot of wood, the temple was completely engulfed in flame within minutes.
Fire has a life of it’s own
The radiant heat from the flames forced the people in front of me to stand and move back. This gave me an unobstructed view of the burn. As the temple burned, it ignited the tens of thousands of letters and offerings. This shot the remnants of these intents into the column of hot air. These flaming particles created a constellation of twinkling burning lights high in the sky. I was spellbound as I realized that the universe of tiny flaming embers carried into the clear desert air our collective prayers, hopes, love, pain and loss.
Then came the elders. Some Paiutes had told me the night before that dust devils were believed to be their ancestors, come to visit. As the fire burned the wooden temple it birthed flame devils. One after another they carried flame, embers and dust as they marched out of the fire and onto the playa. All going east with the wind. The flaming blessings, the parade of elders, the fires impervious radiant heat were met with a an eerie quiet. The temple burn tradition is that it is done in silence and with reverence. But with this procession of elements, ancestors, and intents, the people at times fell to howling, then silence punctuated with emotion.
This celebration, indulgence of art, love, life and chaos defies description. Try as I might, the description eludes me, and as soon as I think I have a handle on what it is all about, it changes. Like the universe of burning prayers, dreams and intents that were released into the night sky, not one of them the same; this event is as diverse as each participant. The definition of the whole is the sum of its parts and cannot be captured in a sentence or a paragraph. And that is my life and your life. To show up, give up judgment, embrace generosity, to have the gift of change, to be able to make different mistakes and be able to start over. This defies description because there are more pieces to come.
This last year seems like a lost year. Like at fifty six years old, I have been stuck in neutral for the entire year. The thing is a lot has happened. Medical issues, a vindictive law suit, relocation, a fire that eradicated almost everything I own. There has been good also, a new town, new friends a new relationship, (now over). So I am not sad to see this year disappear into the dust behind me. Goodbye Fifty Six.
And this year leaves as it began, with massive change. This time though, it feels mostly internal. The excuses have worn thin, I am left with the reality of me. And with that the fear of loneliness, lack of security, the loss of community. These things have haunted me always, but instead of living with them, acknowledging them and letting them go, I have ran, and stuffed and used people places and things to blot them out. But here I am, and here these fears still sit. Waiting like patient guardians for me to react, invoke and indulge. My payment? Anger, shame, fear and despair and the very real manifestation of all of it.
Do Something Different
So there it is, go down the same old path or sit in stillness with my demons, befriend them and let them go. I might just have a chance to simplify, to become discerning about what and who I let into my life, and have the opportunity to learn a little more about me.
It is with this backdrop I will enter my fifty seventh year. It is tough not to wonder what is in store for me next. I just want guarantees and certainty. But I know there are only two things that are certain: impermanence and death. With that in mind, this year I hope to garnish my path with love, joy, wonder and gratitude.
So this year I hope to take more risks. Within my writing and my blogging I want to be more real, this means vulnerability, (ugh). And I want to pursue the many stories that have asked to be told. I want to be in better shape, and be more direct. Finally, I want to face the fear and do the scary thing anyway. I want to be open to what the universe deigns to show me.
If you are reading this, please follow along, comment, provide insight, tell you stories. I want to hear them, I want to hear you.
Sometimes the path we find ourselves on isn’t the path we chose. Then we find ourselves on a different kind of journey.
It has been a little over a year since I have “published” anything on my blog. This is because I suddenly find myself on new ground. And that has taken some getting used to.
My journey into blogging about travel evolved from a couple of things: First, I love telling stories. I always have, even when I was too young to write, and not old enough to have many experiences. Second, I have come to believe that our stories and myths are how we connect to each other and to the the the universe to which we belong. Third, I love to travel and explore. Finally, I had a situation with my health that provided an opportunity for me to travel and write. This gave me a platform to see if I really liked travel and writing, Now, two years later, here is the result of that experiment: To focus on my blog and videos, and how my life changed course really, really dramatically.
When the Universe has Other Plans
A couple of years ago I had settled into a nice little rut. I told myself I was surrounded by people who I loved and loved me. That my needs were met, and my future bright. Things actually were far from perfect, but they seemed tolerable. Life, though, has a way of letting us know when things are not right and I am no exception to that rule.
Over a long period of time I had developed un-diagnosed tumors in my middle ears. This dramatically affected my hearing, but slowly. Like so many others with hearing loss, I became more and more isolated. My deafness making interacting with others difficult and exhausting. I had also agreed to let my girlfriends extended family move into my mountain home. Plentiful in number and hopelessly entitled, they slowly began to destroyed my house. As this progressed, I became a stranger in my own home, my dog my only ally.
With hindsight, I realize that travel provided relief because of its nature. It was more comfortable to be a stranger in a strange place than vilified at home by those you love. But at the time I was oblivious. It seemed like my problem was the challenge of my hearing loss. I just needed to work harder on myself. But the real problem was that things were not right in my universe and I was refusing to acknowledge it. Turns out there is more than one kind of deafness.
Ignoring problems never makes them go away. My difficulties and my inability to do something, or even acknowledging my unraveling life had the astounding effect of blowing up the existence I once knew. This has been a deeply uncomfortable process, but illuminating as well. For me this last year has been a rich inner journey, and seemingly in-congruent with a travel blog. But it’s a journey none-the-less. And that makes it a story worth telling. (To be continued)
I love Idaho Hot Springs! But on this trip, while mid-winter Ski resort hopping, I really did not expect to see many. So, I was delighted when I found some hot springs right up the road from Sun Valley Idaho. Frenchman’s Corner is a true hidden gem at Sun Valley.
Also known as Warfield Hot Springs, these are a set of idaho hot springs that feed into both sides of Warm Springs Creek. One feeds into the road side of the creek and there are two on the other side. To access them you need to take a chilly wade across the creek. The springs are a set of pools that have been built up over time. Temperature is controlled by changing the amount of cold water entering the pools from the creek.
When I visited it was very quiet, and there was only a little bit of traffic. When I arrived it was early, and the sun had not reached the bottom of the canyon yet. Steam from the springs and creek had iced up all of the bushes and small trees next to the creek. This adorned them with light splitting ice prisms, and when the sun peeked into the canyon it lit this ice up like Christmas lights. No one was using the springs when I got there, but a couple of people showed up after I got out Although not far from town, the springs have a nice sense of solitude, and I enjoyed a nice long soak.
All of these places have their own stories, frenchman’s corner is no exception. The Moss Man and his experience with this Idaho hot Spring is one such story.
As reported from the Wood River Journal, March 15, 1984: “A 20-year-old Hailey man was found soaking in a hot mineral pool at Frenchman’s Bend last Saturday after having apparently lived there for several weeks. [Name withheld to protect the guilty], was discovered by two cross-country skiers, according to a Blaine County Sheriff’s Department report. The skiers observed that some of Becker’s skin was peeling and that moss was growing on his back. The semi-conscious victim was taken to Moritz Community Hospital, according to the report. His clothes lay frozen on the ground nearby. A Moritz physician estimated that the victim may have lost 60 pounds while living in the pool. [Becker’s sister-in-law said that] the man stood six-two and weighed 210 pounds prior to leaving for Frenchman’s Bend, and that he took a lot of amphetamines. ‘His brains are really scrambled,’ she said.”
If it were not for the newspaper article from the Journal, I would have dismissed this as a rural myth. It does appear to have happened. And probably because of the bizarre nature of the 28 day event, it inspired a annual, but short lived ceremony to commemorate it, as well as to acknowledge and steward the springs. For a brief period the locals created the “Moss Man Commemoration and Pagan Fun Fest of Ketchum, Idaho”. It was a ceremony to celebrate the symbolism and visions of the Moss Man, and even more importantly to clean up the hot springs after a winter of use.
This is a great example of commemorating a bizarre event with a ritual of good intent.
These places where water, warmed by the earth, bubbles up and provides a scenic, serene, and peaceful spot for a hot bath are truly special. There are extensive indian stories about the origination and use of these place. The myths are not limited to idaho hot springs either. In Arkansas there is a place of profound spiritual significance and and good evidence of our government’s efforts to erase these beliefs. There are also the various scientific studies and explorations. One such description about the hydrothermal systems of this area is here.
Frenchman’s Corner Hot Springs is like many such places. It is unique in its own way, but also similar in that it is a wonderful place to decompress and meet other travelers. A comfortable spot to take in breathtaking scenery, and sit in gratitude.
To find this spot so close to where I was visiting was a gift. And the story of Moss Man served as an amusing highlight. It is not too hard to see how it could have come about, and its significance is a bit of a head scratcher. Moss Man was stranded for twenty eight days. He saw a white wolf kill a deer. And he was entombed and assimilated by the warm waters of the spring. Knowing this, I suspect there are other older stories about this place, and I would love to hear them. If you know more about this place perhaps and would like to share it, contact me through this blog or add your name to our email list.
Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to subscribe!
Last year when traveling in Arizona I realized I was really close to this event called the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, (RTR). Bob Wells, a blogger and vlogger put this gathering together. He did so in the spirit of the bi-annual mountain-man gatherings of old. The event is at Quartzite, AZ. It is on BLM land which is inexpensive or free to stay on depending on where you choose to set up. Continue reading
I was having lunch with my friend, as we do almost every week. We spoke of his recent travels, the upcoming holidays and our families. Then after a longish pause, my friend looked at me and said, “Did you hear about Gerald?”. On alert now, I searched my recent conversations for some inkling of what he was about to say. “No”, I said, “what happened?” “Well”, my friend said, “he had been complaining of chronic intensifying pain, and finally went to the doctor. He has stage four pancreatic cancer. They sent him straight to the hospital to stabilize him, he’s been there for about two weeks now.”
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. These sorts of conversations have increased as I have gotten older. But I am still not used to them. Our friend had finally retired and was looking forward to the next chapter of his life. He had worked longer than he had wanted to, fearful that the money would not last, that he would die broke and alone. So, somewhat bitterly, he worked on, until finally he felt he had enough. He had lived with the pain for years. Just not enough to really worry him or divert him from his goal of getting “enough”. So he forged ahead, worked, saved money, put off the doctors, the travel, the visits to old friends. Once he had enough, he knew he would get to do the things he really wanted to do.
Oh Yea, That
The lesson of death is not new for me. But for some reason I cannot retain it. I forget there is only so much time. That there are infinitely more places to see than I have the time for. I experience the loss of a cherished individual, and for a little bit I know what is truly important to me. Then the chaos of the world begins to leak back in. It erodes my sense of what is important. I become distracted, and the important things fade into the background.
It is so easy and so trite to say, “follow your passion”, or “do what you love”. Most of us roll our eyes and bite our tongue and quietly think about car payments, kids in school, paying the monthly bills. Meanwhile, in the back of our mind is what happened to Grandma as her world disintegrated because of Alzheimer’s. Or the vision of Uncle Albert, peaceful, in his casket, at the age of 54 the victim of a massive heart attack that he never saw coming.
What if our wealth had more to do with our health, and the time left to us. What if you knew that in 11 months, three days and 7 hours, the blood clot that had been living happily in the base of you scull would inexplicably, (and inevitably), break loose and after a short sharp headache your clock would run out? What choices would you make? Who would you visit? Would you create, destroy, read more, see more, love more? Would you work more, or play more? Would you travel now?
Those seem like easy questions when we have an unlimited amount of time to answer them. But they become infinitely more difficult as we acknowledge our expiration date. But like so many tasks, they only get addressed once we start to work on them. And the process is the reward. Knowing that you hate firewood might free up time and energy for hiking, and photography. Understanding that your time is limited, you might decide to spend a lot less of it on people and places that you never really liked in the first place.
Knowing that we all have an inevitable hit-the-end-of-the-leash moment makes honesty easier. Not keeping up appearances with people we don’t know or really care about can save a lot of money. While connecting with people we deeply love and cherish can strengthen bonds and create community and a legacy that will outlast us.
So what would you do if you didn’t have much time left?
I suggest you make a list. The end result will be an inventory. A list of wealth, desires, and priorities. This list will help you asses what you have, want and need to get there. Once done, this can show where time and energy is wasted. It asses assets like health and money. It can be the guide to reallocate limited resources to align with what is truly important. It will help you travel now.
Taken as a whole, the process of committing to a new course in life can be daunting. But like everything else in life, when taken day by day it manifests into the future.
There are only so many events, trails, roads, and moments of sparkling laughter. This merciless thing called time makes experiences precious by limiting our access to them. Time creates and destroys opportunity and to not acknowledge that, guarantees regret.
Travel does not have to be expensive, decadent, or distant. When I walk in the large municipal park in my community I am seeking new things and experiences. A trip to a friends, a journey in a book, a walk down an unknown trail, joining a group. These are all ways to travel. It does not have to be Bangladesh, or Timbuktu. And when we return and relate our adventures to our family and friends, the distance traveled has little impact on the quality of the tales and adventures that our experience brings.
Really, you can do it!
So, once you have written your list of things to do, start doing them. If they are out of your reach, refine your search to things that are more attainable. Commit to a walk every day, on a different street or trail. Travel to a new place every week/month. Identify something close and commit to a date that you will start that journey. Then, start researching that place to learn its story, and figure out what you need to get there.
Because You Already Know This
I hope this reminder helps you venture out and travel now, because we all know how short life is. I hope its gives that little push that takes you to that next breath taking place. And I hope that we meet out there somewhere, and compare notes on what to see next.
There is a lot to the systems that make up even your most basic RV. It can all be a little overwhelming for the uninitiated. But relax, everyone has been new to this once. To help you along the links below and the graphic describe the basic systems of an RV. It does not matter if your rig is a multi-million dollar rolling palace, or a home made wooden camper for your Toyota truck, you will have a variant of these systems.Continue reading
The road had become hostile. Traveling North through Utah I had been wondering about the huge, brown, low hanging cloud in the distance. As I got closer the winds picked up. The gusts started hitting the truck like waves in the ocean. As they slammed into the truck we would rock back and forth and it was a struggle to keep the truck in its lane. The goal was to reach Nevada, so we kept going. We drove slowly hoping the wind would not tip us over or push us into a ditch. Eventually we reached highway 50 and turned West. This brought us into Nevada and it was time to find a place to spend the night. A quick internet search brought up Great Basin National Park. It also brought up an obscure article named, “Prometheus, killing the oldest living thing” .
Glad to have shelter from the relentless gusty wind, we decided to spend the night in the park. I had been working to advocate for the return of fire to the environment and for its use as a restoration tool. Because of this, the term, “Prometheus”, caught my eye. Prometheus is a Greek God who brought down the wrath of Zeus by helping humans. He did this in several ways, but most notably, he stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to the human race.
Great Basin National Park is located in far Eastern Nevada. The beginning elevation of the park is about 6500′, but the majority of the park is much higher. Wheeler Peak campground is the last campground on the road and it sits just below 10,000′. Wheeler Peak looms over this area, its summit above 13,000′. It is a tough hike to the top.
Much of this country is above treeline and the climate is very harsh. Even though it is a difficult environment to live in, it is home to a diversity of plant and animal life. Quaking aspen, mountain mahogany and small, cold, clear streams punctuate the rocky ancient landscape. There are cougars, bobcats, marmots, rock squirrels, and mountain sheep. Other animals that can be found here are elk, mule deer, spotted skunks, shrews, ringtail cats, and ermine. The weather can be extreme, and can change in the blink of an eye. The park is busiest in the summer after the majority of the snow has melted. Cold winters and hot summers make this an area of contrasts.
This high place, with its harsh beauty is the unique environment of the Bristlcone Pine.
Bristlecones, The Oldest Living Thing
Gnarled and stunted, bristcones mostly live at high elevation. The trees grow in six states and the best known groves are in the White Mountains of Eastern California. The White Mountain groves of bristlecones are a favorite for academics and scientists studying the climate and the environment. These trees were thought to be oldest living things. The White Mountains are popular and relativley easy to acess. Because of this and the acknowledged scientific value of these groves, the trees and area where they live is protected.
There are lesser known groves in Great Basin National Park. In the shadow of Wheeler Peak there is a grove that was home to a bristlecone pine tree named Prometheus. There was a small group of people who frequented this area. They knew it was a special place and because of that, they had named many of the trees. This is how Prometheus had been named. Unfortunately, the groves in Great Basin National Park did not have the same protections of those in the White Mountains.
In 1963 a graduate student field researcher named Donald Currey was working on understanding how climates change over time. Mr Currey became convinced that the trees living in the white Mountains below Wheeler peak were very old. His plan was to utilize them to gather data for his research.
At this point the details of the story of Prometheus diverge. Most of the versions follow a common theme however. Mr. Currey was using a boring tool to study Prometheus’s tree rings when his tool became stuck. Efforts to remove it then broke it off deep in the trunk. One version of the story is that Currey was unable to get a replacement tool in time to finish the season, so he asked the Forest Service for permission to cut the tree down. Another version has the Forest Service offering to cut the tree down.
Permission was granted. This was not without some challenges however. The first tree feller refused to fell the tree, citing its unique nature and age. There were others who voiced serious concerns over the killing of Prometheus. And more would have objected had they known of the plans. Eventually they found a willing tree feller and Prometheus was cut eight feet above where it had germinated. Afterwards, the tree was cut into slabs and those were sent to several research facilities for evaluation. The first person to analyse one of these slabs was Donald Currey.
Mr. Curry’s first task was to count the growth rings on the slab he was analyzing. The first day he counted over a thousand. The next day his count passed 3000, and he began to feel sick. One can only imagine the pit he must have felt in his stomach as he counted the tree rings well past 4000. It must have been awful to realized he had just killed the oldest living thing.
It took some time for the world to realize what had happened in this remote place. The Wheeler Peak bristlcones had eclipsed their cousins in the White Mountains of California. The oldest living tree had been chopped down, and it actually lived in Great Basin National Park.
There was a substantial outcry. As accusations flew, Donald Curry was attacked and many versions of what actually happened began to circulate. Currey himself was wrecked. The loss of Prometheus changed his career. He refused to work with living things after that, and became very private. Once, while being interviewed about unrelated research, he literally ran away from a reporter when he was identified as the man who killed the oldest living thing. I believe his actions support the idea that he really had no idea about the age of the tree. But he was fully aware of what an affront this act was to science, research and environmental preservation. The killing of Prometheus had a profound effect on him.
This is a sad story. It is a tale with many human elements: arrogance, integrity, ignorance, curiosity, impulsiveness and hubris. This also makes it is a story of great value.
It was dark when we finally reached our destination, Great Basin National Park. I had only discovered a small part of this story and I was excited to explore the landscape and learn more. The next morning we drove to the end of the road, which is just below 10,000′. I set out alone, up a narrow winding trail to learn more of the story of Prometheus. I hoped even to find the stump.
The trail was a rocky path that led into the shadow of Wheeler Peak. It was an interpretative trail and as I went, I eagerly read the various plaques about the environment, animals and plants. I knew soon I would learn more about the oldest living thing, and the epic tale that had played out here fifty two years before. But there was no mention of Prometheus. I looped the trail twice thinking I had missed the sign. But nothing, not a single word about any of it. When I got back to the camping/picnic area I searched everywhere for some mention of Prometheus, but there was nothing. The killing of the oldest living thing had become a secret.
Re-Killing The Oldest Living Thing
It was fortunate to find the tale of Prometheus right before staying at Great Basin National Park. The story piqued my curiosity and inspired me to go look for the old tree and learn more. As I searched the park in vain for more information I was more aware of my environment. The tale helped me find a deeper reverence for the ancient groves and high country where they lived. I was reminded of the history of those who had come before. And this started me thinking about those who would come after.
The Park Services’ argument for keeping Prometheus a secret is that people will come and do more damage looking for the tree and taking souvenirs. This has happened many times making it a very real concern. They may have other reasons to try and erase the memory of the killing of Prometheus. The most benign and likely is apathy. Regardless, the failure of the Park Service to acknowledge and embrace this tale guarantees that it will be repeated. And worse, institutional secrecy has eliminated the best stewards of this land.
A Better Way
For an eternity we have protected and enhanced many places and things by educating people. And as there are more and more of us, the likelihood of people looking for, finding and defiling our natural treasures for fun and profit seems increasingly likely. The agencies charged with protecting these treasures often are the ones who allowed the damage in the first place. So the final line of defense are the people who pay for the protection and upkeep of our public lands. Our best stewards are the public, in who’s best interest it is to preserve and protect our treasures.
Immortality Through Storytelling
This is a cautionary tale. It teaches and serves as a warning to others and reminds us of the principles guiding science and exploration. The telling of this saga connects us to the land and to each other. It connects our past to our present, and its message will shape our future. The story fosters appreciation and accountability for the creatures and plants that we share this world with. The retelling of the events leading up to the killing of Prometheus, (and after), present opportunities. It presents a chance to encourage thoughtfulness, to highlight the scientific process, to promote discussion about responsibility and teach principles. In short, it is a teachable moment.
So the story of Prometheus continues. Will this ancient tree disappear from the landscape of our memory? Or will it continue as a verbal and written history of the messy business of humanity finding its way through the universe?
We don’t know those answers yet. However, because of Prometheus I have come to believe in the process of telling stories about the places we visit. Sharing the myths, the histories and the science can only bring us closer to the land and its inhabitants. With this connection comes accountability and stewardship and we can begin to become the voice for those who have no voice.
I hope to see you out there as we travel, learn and relate our experiences. If you would like to contribute to these stories, please sign up as a contributor, if you would like to read more stories as they are posted please become a subscriber.
For most of us there is an urge to see new places.
Seeing new places is hardwired into our genes. It is linked to other really great attributes we share; exploration, curiosity, inventiveness and bravery. Seeing new places helps us to find new friends while enjoying new experiences. These are turned into stories and taken back home to share.Continue reading