This is where my trip began, I don’t mean geographically, I mean conceptually. I had a dream. In my dream I was standing in Monument Valley, on the Navajo Nation of Arizona, I was photographing the sandstone monoliths that rise up like a many fingered hand from the floor of the Painted Desert. My dream was vivid. I could feel the heat of the sun on my face, the warmth of that far star pushing through the fibres of my clothing and igniting something just under my skin. I could feel the heat coursing through my veins, feeding my heart, mingling with the grains of oxygen in the cosseting arms of my cells. The wind was hard on my back as though it would wrestle me down to the ground and press me into the broad roots of the ancient creosote. There was snow in the distance, a black cloud letting loose all that it carried while soaring across an endless mesa. I stood there, in the arms of the elements, with my camera to my face, one eye squinted shut, the pointer finger on my right hand pulling the trigger, making images — oh, give me this one moment in time and make it true to the view.
When I woke up, I found I was yearning for the low and high desert of Arizona and Utah. For the red rock there. For a stronger sky. For the smell of dry land about to burst into bloom. I told Robert I thought I needed to go to the desert. He said, “Well then, go!“
So I did.
I like to travel alone. I also like to travel with my love, though he is more conscious of the linear nature of time and manages to stay much more focused on the destination than I am able to. You see, I love the journey. It’s a frustrating component of my nature for dear friends and family expecting me for visits. I never arrive on time. I am usually anywhere from five hours late to two days late in arriving. If I am compelled to stop and explore, I stop and explore. I lose myself in whatever moment I find myself in. It’s a blessing. It’s a curse.
I like to travel alone. I like to drive my truck. I like to watch the yellow lines on the highway flicker into a blurred streak. I like to stop for lunch or breakfast or coffee or iced tea. I like to drive in silence. I like to drive with the music too loud. I like to drive too slow. I like to drive too fast. If I see a terrible looking dirt road leading to somewhere mysterious, I slam the brakes at the last moment, turn the truck off the highway, pop the rig into 4×4 (if need be) and I explore. When I can’t go any further on wheels, I get out and walk. I will follow most any path into the great unknown. I will leave the path and continue until the ground is free of footprints. I can’t help it. It may be a genetic flaw.
I like to travel alone. Half of my year is spent being left behind, due to the nature of Robert’s job. I work diligently to keep my summers from being seasons of living as a remainder, as the one who is left, as the one who stands splayed with tension while she holds everything together in the absence of her life partner. It can be hard, in those months when Robert is away working, to not feel left out of an adventure. He is dropped out of airplanes into wild places where the mountains haven’t been wrangled by hiking trails and cabins, and the wolves and bears still run away at the sight of a human. He has adventures while he works. When he is away, I keep our home running and find many ways to have my own adventures so that the scraggly weeds of resentment cannot find any acidic soil in which to sink their roots. Being the one who is left behind is drastically different from being the one who is leaving, the only similarity is found in the reality of apartness. I think it’s important and healthy for my man to know how it feels to be left, from time to time. It helps us appreciate each other more. While I am on the road, or on a mountain top, or in a cleft in the sandstone rock, I remember so easily all the parts of Robert’s ruggedly beautiful, manly nature that I adore and respect. I miss him. I pine for him. I wish he was with me. It makes the reunions sweet, for with distance, fondness does grow. I will testify to the fact.
I like to travel alone. It’s an enormously selfish way to live life, for a moment in time. When I return, I’m ready to give again, and I’ll give and give and give until I am wracked with fatigue, thin and bare of soul, and I find the time has come to leave once more. There is something about temporary disappearance that grows my energy thick. When I am away, I can recognize how sparse I have grown — the gauntness begins to fade and my views grow robust again. When my soul is a glittering and jangling mobile of bones in the wind, it is easy to be in a throng of strangers, it is easy to be one more small face in a crowd of many. There is a deep rest to be found in the nooks of strange places. I am merely one more girl in a truck on a road to somewhere.
I like to travel alone. I am shy about who I am because who I am has been whittled down and is growing new arms like a starfish in a tidal pool and regeneration takes a fund of energy. I don’t share much about myself, unless pushed to. I hold who I am and what I do like a good secret. I let my gait, my braids, my accent, my silence define me. I smile a lot. I speak when I am spoken to. I fold low over my coffee and sketchbook in a cute cafe. I am my very self but so happy to remain unknown. I pull my hat down low over my eyes. I am a mouse in a cupboard. No. I am a tree in a forest. No. I am a willow wisp, a spindly dream thread, the thing that hasn’t become but will eventually be.
I like to travel alone.
Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape. [Bell Hooks]