Jonathen Mogley and the Desert.

Jonathen Mogley has dark tanned skin and bits of dried leaf entangled in his thick, blonde dreadlocks. His beard engulfs almost his entire face, leave his forehead and glassy blue eyes. He catches bees and eats ants and grasshoppers and knows most of what is edible in the Arizona desert, and more importantly what is not. He has lived primarily outside for the past three years but describes himself as someone who used to be consumed by capitalism.  He wonders from one beautiful place to the next, making friends as he goes and trying to reteach his body how to follow nature’s natural rhythm but stays only in Arizona to be in close vicinity to his 15 year old daughter who lives in Pheonix and whom he sees on occasion during her school breaks.  He talks about the importance of oneness and universal consciousness, “we must love each other, it just doesn’t work otherwise” and thinks Canyon has a good soul and approves of how we are raising him. He is soft spoken and sits cross legged in the dirt. He is generous with what he has and quickly offers us some of his salt and pepper carp that he caught less than an hour ago from the river. Mycroft declines. I happily scutter to my feet and to the other side of the campfire and accept.  I take a piece, and then another and feed a bite to Canyon. We’re both delighted by the fish.

While the rest of the world anxiously follows election day, we have inadvertently found ourselves tucked away in a forest along the Verde river.  The area is teeming with life. Fish jump out of the river in plain site, birds chirp and sing from all directions and dragonflies buzz through the air.  Just several hundred feet away the Arizona desert takes hold and life becomes a lot more challenging but here along the river it is a different world.  The warm humidity engulfs us and reminds me of a summer’s morning where I grew up, out in the country in New York state. Although it’s well into Autumn, it is still in the 80s today.  This morning we strapped Canyon to our backs and hiked along the river with a sweet man named Brian as our guide (a guy in his 60s who has been living out of his 1969 wagon for the past 20 years taking only short interruptions to do things like travel with a lamma on the Colorado trail).

Our destination is the Verde hot springs, the last remnants of a motel that occupied the area from 1922 to sometime in the 1960s when it burnt down to the ground under mysterious circumstance. It was later blown up completely to keep anyone from trying to reside there. The motel, 25 miles down a dirt road and wildly isolated, boomed during the time of prohibition when liquor flowed heavily there. It was said that even the oldest of ladies would hike down the treacherous roads in their high heels just to get a bit of what the motel had to offer: an abundance of liquor and two natural hot springs shrouded in gorgeous river views. Now all that remains are two wayward palmtrees and the hot springs, still perfectly intact. The springs are maintained mostly by the visitors who lovingly drain and refill the two pools. Every so often the rangers come and do some maintenance but from what we are told they mostly try to leave the springs, and the people who visit them, alone. The rock walls of the springs are covered with poetry and artwork, above the source from which the hot water flows someone has written “there is a place in Arizona in which peace flows right from the earth.”

We have been in Arizona for nine days now. Not because we had planned on it but because we are at a standstill as to which direction we will go next. And so we stay.

Arizona has delighted us. Starting first in Flagstaff in a haunted hotel and devilish Hallow’s Eve, we then took the scenic byway, Oakcreek Canyon, down to Sedona. The beauty of driving down Oakcreek Canyon tore through our senses; a scenery painted with cliffs thousands of feet high, plunging into canyons that housed a whispering creek. Hairpin turns had us holding our breaths while Ponderosa Pine trees engulfed us from every side. On the drive through the canyon, I cried. So did Mycroft. It was too beautiful not to. This was the second time in just two days that Arizona knocked us over with emotion. The first time was evoked by the national monument of Walnut Creek Canyon, the remnants of a majestic cliff dwelling civilization of the Hopi and Supai Indian tribes that inhabited the inner walls of the canyon 1000 years ago.

The town of Sedona is a wildly entertaining place; a town known for its magic. Psychic readings, aura photography and crystal shops line the streets. Maps direct you to all of the hikes that will lead you to energy vortexes.  Gongs, wind chimes and xylophones make up what are called “musical parks” and are scattered throughout the city so that visitors of Sedona can create their own ethereal tune on almost every block.  The city is surrounded by tall golden cliffs and red sandstone canyons. Dramatic grey clouds split open with sunlight in every direction. We feel the magic here too.

We have been deliciously sucked into this place. For days we have been exploring the allure of Sedona and the surrounding area, bouncing from place to place as passer bys recommend to us. We have prayed upon a Buddhist Stupa, kissed giraffes, swam through waterfalls, laughed with strangers, drove down long dirt roads and searched for crystals.

We are falling into our life in the truck with a pleasant oomph. Sometimes we don’t know what day it is and generally we find it doesn’t matter.  Slowly we are making small improvements to our home. Our once terribly uncomfortable bed now has a thick memory foam pad and navy blue sheet set. We’ve installed a blackout curtain to help Canyon nap. We now affectionately refer to our sleeping space as “the nest,” and ourselves the squirrels who inhabit it. It continues to be an olympic sport to try to get out of bed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (unlatch Canyon from my breast, unclip baby net, struggle to pull open curtain, crawl over Mycroft, hop down four feet to the floor, hush Canyon as he inevitably starts to cry, open camper door, jump down three feet, pee and repeat) but we continue to adjust.

Canyon has learned to walk with confidence this past week and amazes us with his off roading ability as he lunges himself over rocks and rough desert terrain. He spends a lot of his time smiling and vying for our attention in order to show us the things he’s discovered (pinecones, crumbled leaves, a colored pencil, water splashing in a stream…).

I have heard many times that the entirety of a person’s personality is developed within the first two years of his or her life. Although I know Canyon won’t remember this experience, I love envisioning that this crazy adventure of ours is seeping into the grey matter of our little boy’s brain and creating the foundation of who he will become. Every day he is developing into more and more of our companion and making us acutely aware of his needs and desires. His ability to communicate with us is flourishing. Today he pulled on one of Mogley’s dreadlocks and used his primitive sign language to ask Mogley for more chilli powder dusted pineapple, “more (claps hands), please (rubs chest with palms), food (touches mouth).” He is becoming sweet, silly and inquisitive and unhindered in his exploration of the world. Despite his biting habit, I really quite like him.

A few days ago, Canyon toddled through the sand, over to a new friend of ours (Josh, a 36 year old inventor/engineer who sold his million dollar home to live out of his camper with his lovely fiance Jen).  He solidly placed his hands on Josh’s knees, pulled him to his level, looked him directly in the eyes and let out a big, toothy, toddler grin. That was it, it seemed that his whole and only intent was to smile at him.

So if nothing else, this journey seems to be teaching our little man to communicate a bit of happiness to the world and if that’s the only outcome at the end of this, I’ll take it…

 

 

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On the Road.

Ten years ago, my husband came up with a dream. He would build himself a truck, born from his own imagination and travel around the country in it. This dream had kept him going through the long, demanding years of medical school, residency, and fellowship. It had been his messiah, his glowing light.  If he could only make it through the grueling process of becoming a doctor, he would then reward himself by living in his truck.

Admittedly though, when he dreamt up travelling throughout the country, climbing big rocks and rafting big rivers, sleeping under the stars and meeting fellow explorers, his dream had not included the presence of a high-spirited, little 13 month old human. But when Canyon, our son, came along, my husband didn’t hesitate. I didn’t expect him to.  We would do the journey anyway.

Which brings us to where we are today, just a few weeks into our journey of living in a camper van with our toddler, travelling around the country in any which way we please.

You maybe have seen our pictures, we probably look very happy in all of them.

I once read an article that argued that social media has a way of making us feel completely inadequate about our lives because “everyone else always looks so happy.”  People don’t tend to post the nitty gritty of their lives for all the world to see. One generally doesn’t hear about the tedious, or the dismissive or the down right ugly parts of other people’s journeys. You only see the beautiful. Since most of us don’t tend to have “only beautiful” lives, this has a way of making us feel inferior.

Allow me to not perpetuate this pattern. I don’t want to mislead you with the big, happy smiles of our family adventurously hiking mountains and lazily flowing down canyon lined rivers. Before you decide to quite your jobs, pack up your stuff and move into an RV with your own beautiful toddler, I want to tell you what it’s really like…from the inside out.

It is often. Really. Very. Hard.

I mean this literally and figuratively. The sleeping space of our RV is a double mattress comprised of several different uncomfortable, allergen infused cushions that often separate causing the sleeper to fall  into deep, hard crevices.  Said sleeper cannot sit up, let alone role over, especially when sharing the space with two other sleepers.  The space is quite literally netted in, an element of the arrangement my husband and I added ourselves in order to keep baby from rolling out.

A few nights ago at three o’clock in the morning my husband and I laid in this space while our 13 month old son shrieked, screamed, and clawed at us for several hours. Our baby sleep training techniques that had so beautifully worked in our 1,700 square foot, three bedroom home had become hopelessly obsolete since we had moved into our less than 100 square foot camper. Although this night was a particularly hard night, it was in no way entirely out of the norm of the past few weeks.

It is safe to say that in moments such as these I really wonder what we were thinking by undertaking such a crazy experience with such a little person. I think even my husband wonders this from time to time.  Sure, if it was just him and I this would be easy, but with this screaming, often cranky, unpredictable human?

Another time, rowing down the Colorado river, winds at 40 mph, we sang roughly 100 renditions of “row, row, row your boat,” to our toddler as he screamed and shrieked and screamed some more.

At almost every moment either my husband or I is on complete, total, undistracted baby duty. Gone are the days of allowing our son some freedom to play in a room by himself. Now that his environment consists of spaces such as the middle of the forest, the edge of a cliff, the cactus strewn dessert, or the side of a raging river, the ability to take our eyes off our kiddo, even for a second, has totally diminished.

Sometimes I wonder if we are adventurer “has-beens” that won’t accept that our life has to be different because we have a kid. Are we intentionally inflicting deliberate toddler torture on ourselves? Despite the comments of “Wow! Your family is so cool,” and “Boy, you guys are amazing!” We don’t see many other people rushing to move into a truck with their toddler and there is likely a reason for that.  

So yes, this has been really hard. But we are doing it anyway,

…and it isn’t all bad. It isn’t even mostly bad.

There are redeeming moments.

In fact, right now is one of them. As I write this I am sitting on the bank of an isolated beach on one of the countries largest bodies of water, Lake Powell, Arizona. The sun is glistening off the surrounding canyons, casting soft glowing hues of red, purples and grays all over the horizon. Smooth rocks decorate the tide of the clearest water I have ever seen. I’m sitting, wrapped in a blanket watching Canyon as he toddles around the sand, naked, as he has been most of the day.  He is playing with Legos, he is splashing in the cool, lake water with unabashed glee, he is filling buckets, and shoes, and coolers (and anything else he can find) with sand. He checks in with me from time to time but in this moment, he is marvelously content.

And then there is my husband. I can feel that slowly, he is beginning to let go of the past 12 years of stress. A few nights ago, under the soft glow of our camper lights, I saw my husband pick up a book and read for pleasure, the first time I’ve seen him calm enough to do this in 3 ½ years.  

I watch him work on his raft, a $300 spur of the moment purchase we made out of the front yard of a retired fisherman back in Denver. He has ingenuously repaired and crafted the boat into a masterpiece, complete with a hammock and a canopy and as I write, he putters around the boat, his feet splashing in the tide.

Earlier today we took a long boat ride on the lake and Canyon and I watched as he free climbed a cliff and dove into the crystal clear water below him.  We ate peanut butter apples and fed each other honey yogurt, laughing about the chaos of our life together. Canyon squawked a bit, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle. I finally convince myself, after days of chickening out, to jump into the cool water and I swim after the boat while Canyon points at me, a grin clear from ear to ear. I float on my back and watch the cliffs sparkle above me.  When we return to shore, I make us a dinner of pasta and canned tuna fish and we watch the sun set while we drink boxed wine and feed Canyon pasta noodles and chocolate covered Acai berries.     

We are completely together. No distractions. No agenda. No place to be. We are just here, living out of our RV, being a family and living out my husband’s dream. It is an awesome moment and it makes the not so awesome moments seem worth it. When it’s time for Canyon to go to sleep he points to the truck.

After only a few weeks, he already knows that this is his home.14939567_10100743763893156_5523612388465650290_o