San Luis, Colorado & Pilgrimages of the Soul

I woke up this morning, and it was as though the world was new. I stumbled out of bed and opened the motel door, and had my breath stolen. Colorado is simply gorgeous. Outside my window were clouds and sunshine and mountains and Hope, resting there among them all.

Last night was perfect. I am so happy I checked into that hotel, sketchy tryst interruption and all, because it helped to focus and relax me. I dyed my hair, I put a mask on my face, I wrote a great blog entry, I edited some photos, and even Panda was in a good mood. I slept like a baby, all comfy and cozy and safe, and I probably would have (maybe should have) stayed there a few more days. But I didn’t want to ruin the magic of my one evening there, and instead I headed off towards Colorado Springs.

I almost feel bad for not staying in San Luis, a little town I had dinner in last night. It was also the place where I stopped to walk up the hill and view the stations of the cross, as rendered by the artist Huberto Maestas. San Luis is the oldest established town in Colorado, and the shrine is located on a mesa, up which I had to walk a winding dirt path to the top.

When I reached the shrine at the top, there was a sign on the church door. It was the only printed thing I saw in the entire area, and across the top it said “What is a Pilgrimage?” The words caught me, since recently while I was staying with Joshua, he kept referring to my trip as such. So I smiled over that, but then something twinged inside of me, and I took a picture of the sign so I could read the answer later.

As I was returning down the path, watching the sun set, and the lightning flash against the mountains in the distance, I decided to stop for a moment and read the answer to the question. As I was reading the words on my camera screen, I felt my eyes well up with tears, unexpected and needed.

A pilgrimage is a journey taken in light of a story. The storey preceded us: we’ve read it, we’ve heard it, we’ve been raised in it. And at some pint we need to test that story with our own experience – to read it with our lives and make it our own.

A pilgrimage – whether Dante’s or our own has certain distinguishing features. The pilgrim sets out on a path that others have taken, hoping to witness what others have seen – so see it with his or her own eyes. Pilgrims travel in company but each must encounter the holy site personally. Finally, the pilgrims return, tell others what they have seen and heard, so that others might be moved to set out on a pilgrimage themselves – to go and do likewise.

– Paul Eli

It meant a lot to me, to read that. It assisted in reminding me of one of my many reasons for this journey these past few months. More than anything, I hope to inspire others. I want to inspire people to make the changes in their life necessary to attain authentic, soulful, and joyful lives. So many people live “lives of quiet desperation,” as Henry David Thoreou stated, and “go to the grave with the song still in them.” Lots of people that I’ve met on the road have talked about a ‘consciousness shift’ that’s happening in the world. Many of these theories are based around the year 2012, but I didn’t get too much into that, haha. The point is – perhaps we’re reaching a time where the masses are going to wake up – already I can see it in the eyes of so many children – children who are aware on a deeper level than many adults. And then we have Obama, who could potentially change the world in ways that we desperately need. I don’t know… perhaps it’s an exciting time, and maybe I should look at it that way, rather than become overwhelmed by the depravity of the society around me. Perhaps I could be a part of this “change,” this “shift” in the world… and how wondrous that could be.

On my way out of town, I randomly decided to pull into Sophie’s Taqueria, where I was welcomed so kindly, even though they were trying to close. It was there that I had something I have never heard of before actually – a sopapilla. I guess it’s a completely common Mexican dish in the Southwest, but I had never heard of it before. And… it was delicious. And everyone was so kind; as I was leaving, they asked if I was going to stay around for the festival for Santa Ana they were having. I must admit, I’ve thought of that little town quite often in the past 24 hours. It was a wonderful stop on my journey.

I’m exhausted. I want to write more but I can’t. Sarah (formerly Lavalee) has taken me – her and her husband, Jake, and I am eternally grateful to them. 🙂

Colorado Springs is absolutely beautiful, by the way.

Taos, New Mexico & The Enchanted Circle

So I think I interrupted the motel owner’s tryst with another man… it was right out of a movie. The lobby door was locked, I heard giggling and frolicking in a nearby room, and after ringing the doorbell and knocking a few times, a shuffling and a “hold on!” and finally the two of them show up, one guy smiling and the other (the owner) buttoning up his shirt and letting me in the building.

At least the room was cheap.

As, apparently, is the owner. 😛

But that seemed to be a perfect ending to this day. It has been quite… full. Since five o’clock this afternoon, I have walked through a ghost town, traveled to Colorado, put my feet in a lake (the first water I’ve been in for months), hiked up a hill while following the stations of the cross, eaten fantastic Mexican food in the oldest town in Colorado, and drove through the mountains while lightning illuminated the sky.

And that’s only a brief glimpse at some of this day.

It was a good day.

I woke up knowing that things needed to change. The woman I was staying with in Taos was a nice person, and I felt safe with her, but she was definitely a Debbie Downer. I have to give her slack, though, for her life seemed pretty horrific. From what I could piece together, her daughter was killed right in front of her, as was her dog, Ocito, who had been her companion for the last few years. She had traveled to South Africa, started her own charity, and had recently lost one of her best friends over there, to AIDS. So those are just a few examples of the weight she carried on her shoulders, so I can certainly understand that, but after being woken up by her in the middle of the night, as she cried, and I comforted, I realized that this might not be the ideal situation for me to get myself balanced.

Yesterday, I woke up, happy for a decent sleep (and my life) and headed over to the Taos Pueblo. Since Magellan told me to, I illegally drove through the Pueblo land, but luckily I didn’t get in trouble for it. Instead, I got to see how these people live, tucked away on their reservation, without water or electricity, and lots of dogs and horses walking around freely. Mostly, though, the drive was filled with empty desert land, beautiful in its simplicity and loneliness.

The Pueblo itself was gorgeous, even though I felt as though I were trespassing. A couple dozen people of the Pueblo have little shops, and they don’t mind the tourists, but the rest of the people who live there must be pissed! I know I would be. The entire purpose of living on the Pueblo is to maintain tradition and distance, and then suddenly you start charging people 10 dollars to witness this incredible life choice, and I don’t know… it would piss me off.

The Pueblo people really liked me, however. Especially… the men. Cheyenne, when I got home that night, said “yeah – they like the big, beautiful women.” I was initially going to be affronted by this comment, but then realized I was talking to a 5 foot one, 90-pound individual. She would probably be offended if I called her… squirt. So I let it go, and accepted the truth of it, because during my couple days in Taos, I think I had the potential for about five marriage proposals if I had just smiled one more time, or stayed a moment longer. It was nice, to feel so beautiful and mooned after, but it was… odd, since the culture I come from isn’t that way.

The winner for best ‘mooning after’ was definitely Joseph, however, He was a Pueblo man, who lost an arm a dozen years back while… carving a buffalo, or something. For some reason, it was as though I walked into his Pueblo and changed his life, because he lit up and hugged me for about… five minutes too long. After talking to me for a while, he also decided to bless me and my journey, so he lit a sage smudge stick and covered me in smoke and whispers. Wait, I made that sound too mysterious and sexy. It was definitely mysterious, and it was a beautiful Pueblo tradition he was allowing me to be a part of, but sexy it was not. Just to clarify. However, after this he asked me if he could take me to the mountain that night, and play his drum and sing to me the native music of the Pueblo people.

I mean, how could I turn that down.

But I did. I wasn’t about to put myself into another situation like that, however more innocent and authentic he seemed than Scott in Roswell. So I might have missed out on the most life-changing drum-filled spiritual experience of my life, but I had to let it pass.

I felt a bit of a stronger affinity to Cesar, who was a young man who worked in one of the stores in town. I didn’t notice him much at first, since I was enamored by all the beautiful jewelry, but eventually I needed to ask for his assistance, and we talked for quite some time while I was being wishy-washy about which pieces of jewelry I wanted.

In the end, I spent farrrrr more than I expected to, but not really since I had been waiting since Georgia to get to the Southwest and purchase the jewelry I wanted. I had wanted some inlaid jewelry (I expected it to be Zuni at the time, but the pieces I bought were Navajo, I believe), and I wanted some of the… green stuff. I think it’s just green turquoise, but I’m not completely sure. You think I would have learned the stones by now, but alas. I have not.

However, Cesar was extremely kind, and I didn’t think about him ‘that way’ until I was leaving and he said “see you tomorrow.” I turned around, and he said “Please?” I told him I wasn’t sure what I was doing, and I didn’t end up going back, even though I happened to drive by the shop today and was tempted. He was a good person, with intelligence and drive. He wasn’t what he initially presented himself as, and I liked that about him. He had definitely grown on me. But the last thing I want is to suddenly be stuck in Pueblo town.

Another fascinating individual I met was… well, Aspen something was his Native name, and I forget his real name… so I’m basically useless. But anyways, he was a 14-year-old boy from the Pueblo, who was selling the family wares that day with his grandma. They were such sweet people, and I bought a piece of inlaid work in the shape of a turtle, which his father, a master silversmith, had made. The boy, however, was fascinating, because at 14 he was one of the smartest, well-spoken individuals I have ever met, which is not just rare for the world, but extremely rare for this area of New Mexico. He painted cards, and was working on the Micaceous clay pottery, and was studying Law, and was basically a fascinating young man. I wanted to kidnap him and show him the world, and see what he had to say about it all.

Today was a tough one. I woke up, really unsure about what to do. All I knew was that I had to keep moving, and that the air had very quickly gotten stagnant while staying with Cheyenne, as interesting and kind as she was. So I packed up, and left Taos around noon.

The funny thing is, I left Taos again around five.
Haha.

The reason for this is that I drove the Enchanted Circle, an 80-mile loop around the Carson National Park area, which is wonderfully scenic, and drives through quaint little mountain resort towns. I especially liked Red River – it would be an ideal place to have a family vacation. There was even a ghost town, Elizabethtown, along the way, which used to be a thriving gold rush town, and is now essentially a shadow. Of course, I loved that… being surrounded by the history, with only remains acting as proof that anything was ever there. The woman working at the “museum” was really kind and gracious to me, and it was strange to be in the middle of nowhere, looking at old stuff. Really surreal experience, though, even if I’m not bothering to describe it very well. As I was driving out of the “town,” four horses were walking alongside my car.

That was fun.

And since the time between this morning and this evening, everything has changed. This must be the most life-filled day I’ve ever lived.

The most life-filled day I’ve ever lived. 🙂

The Charms of East Tennessee

Today was just wonderful wonderful wonderful. 🙂 I woke up, in a strange house, after numerous strange, trippy dreams, and I was slightly concerned that it was a bad omen for things to come. So when I finally emerged from my bedroom, I was a little wary, but before I knew it I was chatting away with Scott, eating cheerios with soy milk, and planning our day.

An hour later, we were all (Scott, Laura and I) on our way out the door to take a boat ride. We drove about 10 minutes away, put the boat in the lake, and took a delightful trip. The first thing we did was rescue a a guy on his dead skeedo, which was fun, and he was very much a redneck. I even got called “a damn yankee” for the first time in my life, so that was fun.

The boat ride was amazing, and wonderfully relaxing. We went down a side river that never gets any traffic for some reason, and saw turtles and birds and old civil war bridges, and life was ridiculously good. I adored the feeling of my hand trailing in the water, my eyes closed, and the wind against my face and body. Yum yum.

Afterwards, we relaxed at home for a while, then went over to Scott’s friends’ property, about 45 minutes away in the mountains. There, I got to take pictures, and we took a walk around the mountain property, with it’s random cabin and outhouse and porch. We had brought the four little dogs they own with us, and they were ridiculously cute. Afterwards, two of Scott’s friends showed up, and we all sat around on the porch of the little cabin they had built with their own hands, had a few beers, and talked about everything and nothing. It was ridiculously simple, and absolutely amazing. If I could explain it, I guess it would only take away it’s beauty, but let me tell you… all in all, one of the best days I’ve ever had. 🙂

River Majesty, Ellijay, GA

I really can’t complain about my present situation. I’m on my private deck, panda cheerfully (as cheerful as she can be) by my side, about a hundred-fifty feet above the river’s edge. I’m listening to doo-wop, with the background music of rippling water, and slowly consuming strawberry mentos.

Not bad for a Wednesday afternoon.

It’s also pretty cool when you can look out the kitchen window and see a deer, looking back at you. I was able to grab a rotting apple, cut it up in front of her, and throw her pieces. It’s crazy to have her little doe eyes watching me, much like a puppy, waiting for her treats. Beside her was a chubby little squirrel, happily munching on the kernels of corn I had thrown out there earlier this morning. We were a happy little family, and I understood how Lisa can stand out there for hours, feeding her animals.

Yesterday afternoon, there was a light rain, and afterwards, around 5:30, I decided to take a walk around the area. I was in absolute heaven, for the rain had inspired everything to glisten, and the light was respledently laying upon every little leaf and stone. My camera got a workout, as did I, and I fell asleep last evening, content that I had captured pieces of beauty in a box.

I found out today that there are pandas at the Atlanta Zoo… so… um… HOLY FREAKIN’ YES! 🙂 I plan on making a day of driving down there, sitting with Panda beside her family’s exhibit, and leaving when they force us out (panda kicking and screaming, I’m sure).

Beyond that, not too much to divulge. I’ve been finally able to relax a little more (relaxation is an art form) and I’m sure by the time I get it mastered, it will be time to move on. But alas, this time in Georgia is definitely a beautiful way to rejuvenate and prepare for the next leg of my journey.

I had a terrible dream last night. I dreamed that I was back home, no longer on the road. It was the strangest feeling; I didn’t understand why I was home, in my bed, and I started to panic. I couldn’t move, I was too tired, but all I could think was “No! I have to get on the road! I had already gone so far; why am I back here?” The dream brought up a lot of different emotions for me, but it gave me the ability to perceive my current travels as one would a memory, rather than a present experience. I guess it is crucial to see the bigger picture sometimes; and in this case, I was able to realize that forty years from now, when I look back on my life, this roadtrip will have been the turning point. I will be able to say “so then I packed my car, and drove away.”

And that was when my life began.

Cherokee, NC & Ellijay, GA

Panda is extremely happy about our new location. She is currently reclining like a queen in our king size bed, listening to the sounds of the Cartecay River outside our third story cabin window, occasionally mumbling to herself about how she wants to feed the deer in the morning.

This evening we are in Ellijay, nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia.

We were welcomed here a few hours ago by my cousin, Lisa. She is actually a second cousin of my mother’s, and they grew up together. Mommy is very happy to know I am safely ensconced here with family, not gallivanting about couchsurfing. It is absolutely gorgeous here, so I can’t deny that I’m content to be here, as well. First of all, the drive alone was majestic, traveling through the mountain ranges. My straight and wide recollection of highways could barely handle the curvy turns and twists of the narrow roads here; nevertheless they are termed as highways, and are the only way to get from point A to B. As I drove, I couldn’t help but to think how even a hundred years ago, a mile was a mountain, both figuratively and literally. No wonder people settled into the curves of the hills and never left; there were little options beyond that existence. There is something both tranquil and terribly isolating in that thought.

Before the Blue Ridge Mountains welcomed us, Panda and I briefly visited the Great Smoky Mountain Range, as well. I was thrilled to attend my very first Native American Powwow, right on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina. I woke up, relatively early (for me), said goodbye to Chris as he left for work, then headed over to Cherokee for the Memorial Day Weekend Powwow. As I drove deeper into the mountains, I could barely contain my joy – I could smell the husky smell of wood smoke, and almost drove off cliffs a couple times due to my absolute awe of all that was around me. I was tempted to pull off to the side of the road, and simply refuse to leave. For the rest of my life.

Nevertheless, I made it to the powwow, and gratefully so, for it was a wonderful experience. I sat next to a nice woman named Pat, who was also traveling alone, and we both enjoyed taking lots of pictures of the singers and dancers. As soon as the singers began drumming, I felt that burgeoning feeling in my chest again. I have felt so much energy, deep within my chest – first with yoga, then the mountains, now the music. It’s as though the air is pressing down upon my heart, and it is a perfect mixture of yin and yang, pleasure and pain. As the drumbeats started, and the players mixed their voices into the beat, tears formed in my eyes, and I could barely swallow. Again I was overwhelmed with profound emotions, spilling up from my soul. It is not only an awareness of joy and of life, but also of a deep soul pain, probably in a war between feeling and healing.

I’ve only been with Lisa for a few hours, and already we have had incredible conversations. She is a great representation of the kind of person I hope to be, and has accomplished many of the things for which I strive. At the very least, she owns this cabin, which is a perfect symbol for me of everything I dream of – the earth, a sense of peace, security, and authenticity. She might have to pry me off the porch to get me to leave.

Charlotte St, Asheville, NC

My time in Asheville has been time well spent – nothing too involved or busy, simply good conversation and good people.

I’m glad I reached out through the couchsurfing site again, since Chris is a great guy, and it’s been wonderful to get to know him a little. I was ridiculously grateful to spend hours talking with him last night, about everything and nothing, until 3 in the morning. It was everything I needed, and more. I had been about at the point where I would have paid someone to have an intellectually stimulating conversation with me.

I spent today tagging along, eating Chris’ delicious veggie burgers and brewing beer. You know, the usual Friday afternoon. 😛