Nuggets of insight from the road trip
May 31, 2013
I had a memory of Carson City that kept us driving past the point of comfort from Great Basin in Utah. In this memory, I was seven months pregnant with Caleb and we spent a romantic weekend in a great big Victorian B & B surrounded by towering lilac bushes and fished the streams surrounding the area. There’s even a photo anchoring this memory: me in front of the bright green Karmann Ghia we drove back then (before kids) grinning like a loon, holding a fat stringer of trout draped over my giant belly.
Well. The place we rolled up on late in the night was not the cute Victorian town I had mythologized in the highly inaccurate annals of twenty-six years of memory ago. In fact, I'm sure I've never been to Carson City at all and that was some other little town; now I'm curious which one!
Carson City was large, modern and dusty, and a series of frighteningly tacky casino/hotel combos and big box stores, its most obvious feature the fact that someone, sometime decided there would be a town there, and made it so. Yes, we’d made it 387 miles since 1:30 in the afternoon in Utah…but why?
We were both kind of crushed with disappointment, Mike particularly as we’d gone through an arduous process of getting Nevada fishing licenses and he’d hoped that “the lakes all around on the map” would be good fishing. We found a room at a forgettable motel at 9:00 p.m. and crawled into hard beds with pilly sheets, but at least it was warm.
Mike left early to explore and ascertain if it was indeed as bad as our first impression; he came back at 7:30 to find I was up and packed.
“Nothing here,” he said grumpily, and we got on the road, surprised to find Lake Tahoe just up the hill and wishing we’d had the wherewithal to just go a little further… We got new fishing licenses at a fly fishing shop whose helpful employee directed us to Markleeville, the Carson River, and a little place called Sorensen’s All Season Resort.
The Carson River outside of Tahoe is a fast-moving topaz joy to fish. We started by a bridge, hiking across a meadow thick with new grass forcing its way through the mulch of last season’s snowburnt dead. Tiny purple crocus starred the field studded with silver-shot granite boulders, and river willows budded over the clear water that glowed green in the backswirls behind rocks or in shadows undercutting the bank—where hungry trout waited. Meadow larks and swallows darted and called, flying patterns around our heads while a pair of plover, alarmed by proximity to their nest, began an elaborate injury-related drama to draw us away. In the distance, jagged snowy peaks reminded us that winter wasn’t long ago.
There’s a ‘flow state’ that comes with fishing that’s one of its many appeals to me. A state of “flow” according to Mihali Chikzentmihalyi who crafted the term, is a task which is difficult enough to engage the full attention but easy enough not to cause anxiety. Add an ideal natural setting and a reward at the end, and you have an activity that is worthy of destination.
I tried a variety of lures but the one the fish were biting was a small gold barbless Panther Martin, with a slow reel and slight jigging motion as if the lure were a temptingly-injured minnow. I like to try to aim accurately on the cast, just short of the opposite bank, beyond a rock outcropping or under a branch to challenge myself. Clambering over rocks, rolling up my pants and taking off my shoes to ford feeder streams… all of it induces a mental silence that reminds me we were born for this.
This. Being in nature, not apart from it.
After we got settled into our cabin at Sorensen’s, Mike took off for more exploring and I settled in to veg. I spent the afternoon in a hammock, staring up at the new spring leaves of quaking aspen, watching them quake. I napped in a good bed with great sheets, and stared at the hand-plastered ceiling of the cabin and thought about not much. I looked at my laptop and tablet, thinking about writing, but had nothing to say. I read, from the wonderful book of nature essays I’d bought myself as a treat at the Canyonlands Park gift shop—An Anthropology of Turquoise, by Ellen Melloy. Beautiful writing, wry and fresh and challenging. It was a shock to discover on the jacket that the author had passed away in 2004—her voice was so compelling she felt alive to me.
Mike blew in as dark fell, laden with fish, and grinned at the sight of me, tucked up in bed with my book. “I turned the heater on,” I said.
He laughed. “I wondered what you’d be doing. I thought, maybe she’ll make up the fire or start dinner. Then I thought, nope. She’ll be in bed with her book and the heater on.”
Good thing he knows me that well and still loves me.
I got up and cleared off the table while he proceeded to set off the smoke alarm making steaks and frying fish on the inadequate gas grill. It feels like, and is, utter luxury that we have one more whole day here before we drive back to the Bay Area, spend a few days visiting family, and fly home to Maui.
I’ve been thinking about nuggets of meaning I’m getting from this trip—I know there will be more as I get back to my regular life, but here they are in no particular order:
- Pick well when you marry. All other decisions, like education, jobs, where to live, what to do—none will have as much impact on overall happiness as who you choose for your life partner. (Yes, partners can be traded in or swapped out, but not without some heart damage.)
- You don’t actually need much stuff. I found one suitcase can hold all I really need to get through a whole month of living.
- Nature is essential to joy. We weren’t designed to spend our days cooped up in cubicles and our nights shut in buildings. Walking along paths, fording streams, swimming, climbing, sitting and watching, exploring and discovering… these activities are in our genome. All the people that lived and died before us whose DNA shaped us, cry out to do that again and when we walk in nature, a part of it, not dominating it… they live again.
- Creating art is a way we can live on. Mike and I were feeling our age on this trip—but our words and images will outlive us. That feels good.
- God is revealed in nature. All around in the wilderness, joy, beauty, humor and the awesome majesty of God are revealed.
- Take care of your body so you can really live in it. The body is our vehicle to experience. It’s hard to do anything when you aren’t physically healthy, and as best we can, we must take responsibility to keep that vehicle running.
- At any given moment, really be in the moment. I’ve learned to turn off the busy mind-chatter on this trip, to use all of my senses to be present in whatever moment and place I am—in the Jeep looking through the bug-spattered windshield at desert streaming by, sitting on the sunwarmed sandstone shoulder of a giant formation, standing in line at Walmart. I have better learned to concentrat any or all of my five senses and have a deeper experience of knowing each individual moment of what remains of my life. (I also know this will be good for my writing.)
- Sharing your experience or adventure with others deepens it. Choosing to blog and photograph this trip and share it with our family, friends and fans was an ongoing discipline—yet I found it helped me remember it more to write about the day, to be in the day thinking about what to share, to always be looking for the fun/interesting/beautiful picture to take enhanced, not detracted from, my own experience of it. It never felt like bondage to update the blog or post on Instagram or Facebook—it felt like a way I could crystallize my own memories of the event(s) and capture them more fully by sharing them with others.
These are just some preliminary findings. Stay tuned for more in the days to come.