There is this hill you descend as you approach Capitol Reef from Torrey, UT. At the top of that hill, the expanse of Capitol Reef is laid before you in layers of rust and white. When the sun is low in the sky, the reds glow with the strength of the sun itself. There is no place to stop on the road as you head down that hill, so you are forced to enjoy the moment as you roll on down into the boundaries of the park itself, with no pause for a photo op. So you will all just have to trust me on the magnitude of this sight, unless you go there to see for yourself, which I would highly recommend to anyone. But go in fall. This part of the desert in fall will astonish the unsuspecting visitor with its array of color. Turns out that autumn colors are not just for the eastern third of the country. And this makes me very happy, as fall, back in my hometown, was my favorite time of year. Now, I can miss those color changes a little less.
Autumn is a magical time of year for this part of the country. The heat is blissfully gone, the crowds are thinned. You can hike for long stretches on popular trails and hardly see a soul. Capitol Reef has turned into my favorite desert park out of the three I’ve visited thus far. It is less popular than Arches or Zion. I hope it stays that way. Even when I came through here in the summer of 2017, on my way to my brother and now sister-in-law’s wedding, Capitol Reef did not feel like it was swarming in park visitors. I went on one of the most popular hikes in the park during that visit (the Chimney Rock Trail, for those of you who are curious) and only saw a total of four people on that hike: two as I was starting out and two as I was finishing. As you all know by now, if you’ve been following this blog, I enjoy solitude when I hike. I enjoy being present in the moment, listening and observing the space I am in. I like letting my brain rest from the whirring patterns of thought of everyday life. It is a Zen space for me, being alone in nature. A place where I don’t have to perform; I just have to be. I might confront uncomfortable physical conditions, such as when I struggle for each breath as I push myself up a steep climb, or face fears induced by the very solitude I endeavor to find. None of this actually reduces the peace I feel. Indeed, in some strange way, I think it contributes to it. Maybe it’s because there is something about the effort and pushing your body and facing fears in nature that brings a person into herself, makes a girl (or guy) aware of who she really is, stripped of protections and social conditioning, realizing a strength and courage that often hides in the day-to-day world.
I came to this journey with the understanding that I needed to shift spaces. I needed to see the world through a different lens, to see the goodness in our world again. This did not mean putting on rose-colored glasses. It meant seeing the common threads that bond us all with each other and with the natural world. It meant seeing that these common threads exist in spite of the exaggerated divisions of society and the separation from nature created by artificial environments and technology. I knew that I wanted to change my own perspective on how I had come to view the world. What I didn’t realize as much was that I would equally, if not to a greater degree, begin to change my perspective of me. I am starting to understand that this change of perspective has to happen before I can honestly change my perspective on the rest of the world. Change starts at home, right?
I am an introvert. A shy person at heart. But I learned to talk over the years. I learned to fill the quiet moments between me and another with chatter to disguise my discomfort. I talked a lot out of nervousness. And I came to state my opinions at times in obstinate and unmoving terms. Stubbornness can be one of my not-so-fine qualities. This came from years of being too shy to speak up. Too fearful of being wrong. To afraid of not being heard. So, I went the other direction, demanding to be heard and not listening enough, thinking that, as a shy person, I was being courageous and strong.
Now I am realizing that there is courage in listening more than we talk, in observing more than we act, in silence over noise. There is strength in those actions. Yes, there is a time to speak out, absolutely. A time to make sure we are heard. A time to hold strong in our convictions. But how do we know who we are and how do we understand one another and the world around us when we cannot hear other voices over the din of our own, when we cannot hear the sounds of birds and trees rustling, of our own breath and heartbeat, of that of our companions when we fill the air with noise, when we can see no further than our screens and our tunnel vision?
In Capitol Reef, this time around, I hiked the Grand Wash and the Cassidy Arch Trail. One takes you through a winding, dry river bed, with strong and rusty walls towering impressively and imposingly above your head. The patterns in the rock and the diversity of formations are captivating. I was entranced in the views surrounding me and did not care to see what lie beyond. This was enough. I was happy with what I saw and heard here. After seeing a group of women of a certain age who spoke German and were, I found, from Munich and Grunwald and one of whose parents lived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen until the day they died, but who were now living in, of all places, Oklahoma, I saw no one until I neared the end of the Grand Wash Trail and began to head up the Cassidy Arch Trail. I was content with my views from deep inside the canyon, thinking that this was the highlight of the hike. Until I went up the other, the Cassidy Arch Trail, which leads you up challenging, steep, and not always well-marked paths to reach bald rock, a landscape laid bare, with grand views of a world spread out from that high point, diverse, yet joined together in an unbreaking sweep of the eye in a 360 view. Independent. Complex. Linked. Interdependent. The route to get there was difficult at times, but the rewards were great.
I met people on the Cassidy Arch Trail. People on their own journeys on this trail, on this trip, on this merry-go-round called life. We shared silence, and we communed in good-natured comments over the difficulty of the journey. We exchanged mutual wonderment over the views from above, and, on a couple of occasions, we got lost together and then found our way back to the path together. I am finding out here that I grow more comfortable again with silences and listening, not just in nature, but in the company of others. And in doing so, I also don’t find the need to chatter to fill the void. Not as much, anyway. It still happens, sometimes. But not always. And that’s an okay place to start.