Monthly Archives: May 2015

Moving hearts


Bow Tie Arch, Moab, Utah

If places were men, Portland, Oregon would be the guy I met at a farmers market. We both like to hike, and read, and travel. He talks about his feelings. He recycles. It’s all very satisfying, but a bit damp. Moab, Utah would be running away with the cowboy who comes to town occasionally, never says a word, looks at me out of the corner of his eyes, and one day shows up with an extra horse so I can ride away with him. Hot, but after a while the dryness would get to you.

If home is where the heart is, then southern Utah is one of my homes. But I don’t see myself living there. Moab, the most likely candidate in practical terms, like a thriving library and access to foods I like, is indeed a cowboy town, dealing with a constant avalanche of people, tons of whom fan out into the wilderness on all-terrain vehicles instead of horses, making Moab the ATV capital of Utah. It’s a lot of hubbub, and there are only two months of the year — cold January and blistering July — when it calms down.


Silver fleabane (Erigeron argentatus) Snow Canyon, Utah

For most of my life home was a physical place, a building, both shelter and oasis. Now, taking my home with me, and discovering that there are places that are home even if I have never known them, expands the idea, makes it clearer that home is resonance rather than space, however suitable and even wonderful the space is.

Take California and South Dakota, for examples. California is a place of great compatibility for me — incredible beauty, a constant avalanche of fruits and vegetables, acupuncture easier to get than a slice of (artisanal) pizza. I know and love wonderful people there. There are thirty times more wildflowers blooming there than, say, Utah. You can have desert, mountains, meadows, cities, small towns, valleys, vast lakes, ocean, all without leaving the state.


Fort Pierre National Grasslands, central South Dakota

But I’ve never felt in California the way I felt driving into southeastern Utah for the first time, or the way I felt one hot July day in South Dakota, when I stopped the car on a lonely road along the Native American Scenic Byway and stepped into the prairie, the sun overhead, the sky cobalt, the grasses flowing over my feet, calves, tickling my knees in the constant wind, the heat pressed against my skin, almost dizzy with the sense that this was my place on earth. That the curves of my body were part of those vast rolling hills, with their waving oceans of  green and tan grass, their endless breathing of air.

I doubt I’ll ever choose either Utah or South Dakota as a place to live permanently. But they are home, because my heart was already there, waiting for me. This is a great mystery. Many of us, including me, say casually of these experiences, ‘I must have had another life there.’ We feel that we’re walking into echoes. I have no clear vision of how our energies mix in this universe as they come in and out of the plane we call life. Perhaps we’re part of a universal consciousness, potentially making all histories and stories our own. Though, if so, why do some places, people, situations so reverberate with us, while others don’t at all? Why do I find echoes in the prairie of South Dakota and the desert of southern Utah, but not in the mountains of neighbors Montana and Colorado?


Fernan Lake, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

In the past, I had the old saying backwards. I made a home I loved, and put my heart there. Now I see that enduring phrase also acknowledges the heart’s ‘homing’ ability — the resonance that tells us where home is, where our heart belongs. Right now I’m at home in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, because this where my son lives, and so part of my heart is always here.

kalientoI’m privileged to be able to live this mystery, to wander from place to place, finding echoes, surprises, beauty, wildflowers, companions. It’s both mildly antic and quite wonderful to travel through the world towing chairs and forks and my favorite rug, making home wherever I feel like it, wherever I’m drawn.

But I have a lot of company on this journey, whether on wheels or not, because we’re all living in moving homes, as we carry our hearts from place to place.


Idaho’s camas lily (Camassia quamash)



A land of stone tablets

Newspaper Rock petroglyphs near Monticello, Utah by Betsey Crawford

Newspaper Rock, Monticello, Utah

I’m still wandering the Utah desert with Moses. He’d be very used to this, but, though I love it, I’m positive I’d find forty years a few decades too many. Well, of course, he would say, with the air of a man who has come to grips with doing what his god says, no matter how capricious, no matter what the cost. I thought I was going out there for a few months.

Presumably, when you’re leading your people out of slavery, decades of wandering in the desert isn’t as bad as it seems on paper. It’s not as if Moses were thinking, I could be a CEO earning $13,000 an hour if I didn’t have this stiff-necked tribe to deal with, and this ornery God handing me stone tablets. Options were few, and they were, after all, going to another dry and rocky place. The Aztecs wandered for 200 years before finding the sign to their promised land, which turned out to be a swamp, so there are a number of demanding gods out there.

We’re walking on a day when the sky is a blue so deep and incandescent that it could easily burst into flames at any moment, and start raining stone tablets, as it apparently has been doing for eons. The tablets are everywhere. They have our history written on them. It’s even color coded, if a bit disorganized in every other way, after being pushed and shoved by millions of years of geologic upheaval.


Geological formations along the road in southern Utah by Betsey CrawfordThe great tales of long tribal wanderings speak of our own slow evolution as a human race, and also as individuals. So many of us yearn for instructions to manage our lives in this often wild and inexplicable existence. We have the most basic questions: Why? What?  How? We long for clarity. We want stone tablets with the rules for living on them.

And here they are. They’re everywhere, not just in Utah, though they’re more spectacular here than many places. They have the simplest of commandments. Tread lightly, they say.

Biological crust in Butler Wash, outside of Blanding, Utah by Betsey CrawfordThe sandy soil to the side of the path is covered with a dark brown layer, made up of broken down moss, lichen, cyanobacteria, microfungi, and other microorganisms. It’s called a biological crust, and it prevents erosion, provides nutrients to sandy soil, holds water, enables rootlets to find secure footing. If I step on it in this dry environment, it won’t recover for 250 years.

Lichen covered stone path in Butler Wash, near Blanding, Utah by Betsey CrawfordDon’t waste. Here is a rock path where you can see no rock at all. It’s a beautiful lichen painting. The lichen are slowly detaching the bonds that hold the rock together, one facet of the complex, millions-of-years-long process that creates the living soil our planet depends on.  Dirt is not cheap.

Dry wash in Mount Zion National Park, Utah by Betsey CrawfordExcept for a few hours a year, washes and streams are dry expanses of tumbled rock. Respect limits, the tablets say. If you put golf courses, shopping centers, houses in the desert, one day you will run out of water.

Dinosaur footprints in Buterl Wash, near Blanding, Utah, by Betsey CrawfordBe humble. A three-toed dinosaur walked through this mud-turned-stone 150,000,000 years ago. They were the big shots of their day.


Petroglyphs at Sand Island State Park, Bluff, Utah by Betsey CrawfordMake art. Celebrate life.

Don’t use too much, take care of all breathing things, sustain all the non-breathing things we depend on. We think it’s complicated, but it’s not. We make it complicated by what, to me, are two of the most damaging legacies of the Old Testament: that certain people are chosen, and that humans have been given dominion over the earth. These ideas weren’t new with the Israelites, but the bible helped codify them.

The stones around me hold the history of the cosmos, as do I, as does my dog, Splash, patiently sitting in the shade while I take pictures of wildflowers. In the first moments of the big bang every particle that will ever exist in our universe was already created, to meld and blend and be forged in the three billion degree heat of the earliest stars into the elements that make up this rock, that course through my veins, that hold up the stem of the flower.

Orange globe mallow (Spheralcea munroana) in Mount Zion National Park, Utah by Betsey CrawfordWhatever we call the force that exploded every bit of us into being, we are ongoing manifestations of it, the same energy, expressed differently, now a rock face  200,000,000 years old, now a woman of sixty-four, a dog of fourteen, a days-old flower glowing orange against the rocks.

This means we are made of exactly the same particles as everything else. When I really think about this miraculous, inherent relatedness, it makes it harder to feel superior because we have iPhones, Starbucks, jets, guns. Our path of evolution has given us the opportunity to reflect on our connection to everything in the cosmos, but we use it instead to fight over literal surface differences. We have made our form of consciousness a god, and have created a covenant with that god, to choose us over all other forms on the earth.

It’s not sustainable, and we all know it. Perhaps not in our vaunted consciousness, but in our earthy bodies, that know we are part of the dirt, the plants, the stars. each other. Bodies that long for reconnection, that know separation is death. We, too, are tablets with the instructions we long for.Red rock formation in southern Utah by Betsey Crawford



Moses in Utah

Valley of the Gods in southeastern Utah by Betsey CrawfordMoses would have had a confusing time of it in southern Utah. Not only is every bush burning, but every rock and cliff face is on fire. The divine voice is everywhere in this extraordinary place. Moses’ question, ‘Who are you?’ would have had a thousand answers echoing off the canyon walls.

When I first drove into Utah, at the age of forty-six, it was a burning bush moment. I took one look at the red rocks, the cobalt sky, the silver sage, and said, ‘I will be back.’ I had no idea what I meant. I was living a life I held dear, raising the beloved 10-year-old boy who was with me, running a business I enjoyed much of the time, in a relationship I cherished, in a house I loved. Life was full of complications and challenges, as all lives are, but also rich and rewarding.

I was living roles that, by and large, worked for me at that point — mother, partner, lover, friend, daughter, creator — living by rules that I either accepted willingly (be a good mother) or tolerated (keep up with paperwork) or hoped soon to transcend (be nice all the time.) I was aware that there were more and more rules that were falling into the hope-to-transcend category, but it took ten years for the full roar to come through — I’m done! And another few years before I actually left a lot of it behind. Storm coming along roadside in southeastern Utah by Betsey CrawfordNow I’m here in Utah. I’ve driven through several times since 1997, but never stayed long enough to wander through the canyons day after day, smelling the deep, spicy, earthy scent of sage and juniper, having shadows from high, fluffy, bright white clouds wash over me, feet kicking up puffs of red dust as I walk, watching the bushes and rock walls burn.

When I was little I wondered why God chose a bush. Why not a tree? A mountain? A gigantic rock? I’d never seen a desert, where trees can be almost non-existent and bushes rare enough to make them extra holy. But there are tons of towering rocks.

Perhaps God was trying for scale. The God of the Old Testament seems undecided about his methods — tyranny? accessibility?  — and this approach to Moses conveniently combined the two: laying an enormous burden on him from a lowly bush.

Comb Ridge along Butler Wash, Bluff to Blanding, Utah by Betsey CrawfordI’ve never had much truck for this God, the one with the personality of a Bronze Age warlord — vengeful, ferocious, completely unpredictable in both rare moments of tenderness and much more common moments of mayhem. But I will say this for him, those tablets had ten, just ten, pretty straightforward rules. A little self-serving, but overall, he did a good job at keeping it simple.

Then came Leviticus, an entire compendium of laws, 247 of them. Not content with that, various parts of the Old Testament added another 366 rules. Jesus handily reduced all this to two, but everyone completely ignored that part, because then Christianity began its own list, building on the earlier ones.

Valley of the Gods in southeastern Utah by Betsey CrawfordCatholicism, the tradition I grew up in, had a lot of rules. The culture of the suburban 1950’s had their own set. My parents had a bunch to add to that. All of this made the squealing, giggling, mud-flinging, part piglet, part goddess energies of young girlhood seem increasingly dangerous, and I began to invent rules myself. I was a firecracker as a tiny girl, but after six I wasn’t a rebel. I wanted to be loved by my sad mother, not free of her. Love and safety seemed to lie in adopting the roles others asked of me. I stepped into my own shackles and turned the key.

Some of those roles — mother, sister, friend — made life worth living, even with their inevitable ups and downs. Some — daughter, good girl, caretaker — weighed heavily. Caretaker took over my life once my youngest sister was born, when I was ten, and my mother went to bed, loving, lost, depressed. It was the hardest of the roles to bear, and, since I defined myself by it, the hardest to allow myself to release.

Burning bush in the Anza Borrego Desert, California by Betsey CrawfordIf we are lucky, and live long enough, many of us can leave some of our roles and rules behind. Our children grow up. The aging parents we cared for pass beyond us. We leave work behind, houses behind. We go out into the desert, into the fires of southern Utah. The question changes. We have spent many years loving, caring, tending all the ‘you’s’ in our life. Now, when we see the burning bush, we take off our shoes, approach, and ask, “Who am I?’

Like God, we answer, ‘I am who I am.’ I am simply me. And now, after all this time, that is enough.

Butler Wash with a rainbow near Bluff, Utah by Betsey Crawford

There are more pictures of Utah in the Utah landscapes gallery.

I’d love to have you on the journey! If you add your email address, I’ll send you notices of new adventures.

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