A Deeper Appreciation

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That’s me, inside the Wave Cave, in the Superstition Mountains. A little backstory …

The Superstitions was my first wilderness stop in Arizona. With my guide and host, and now dear friend, Leanna, we did two hikes, plus a explore a nearby reserve. Then I headed north, but not before committing myself to come back.

This time we did another two hikes, plus a guided night walk. Each new hike built on the experience of the earlier ones. With each footstep, each pause to take in the view, each gasp of exhaustion, each sip of water, the appreciation deepens. What begins as an introduction eventually resolves into a profound sense of connection. Then you reach a certain tipping point where your soul is no longer contained in your body. It has burst out onto the land.

Boundaries break down. You feel your spirit nurturing you from within, but you also sense it in every rock, every tree, every breath of wind. A relationship develops, a sense of oneness emerges, no self, no other.

It’s kind of like that when a friendship blooms. Leanna gave me a strong sense of that.

So back to our Wave Cave. We had a 990-foot ascent in 90 degree heat over a lot of loose rock. Toward the top, it got really steep and I found myself walking like John Cleese doing his Minister of Silly Walks routine.

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This is the terrain Leanne and I were scrambling over. Here’s a macro view …

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And here’s a micro view …

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Near the top was particularly strenuous, and I found myself taking numerous breaks. My legs were rubber. The air I breathed seemed devoid of oxygen. Here is the mouth of the cave, our destination …

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That’s me, below the “wave,” playing my didgeridoo. Those last 50 feet to the cave seemed like 50 miles. When I finally reached my destination and cast off my pack and plopped onto the sandy surface, I felt as if I would never get up. Then a funny thing happened. I spotted this guy …

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The little guy and his family were about to leave when I noticed his tee shirt. This was too good to pass up. Next thing – don’t ask me how – it’s like I haven’t experienced the rigors of the hike. Next thing, I’m blasting away on my didgeridoo. Next thing, I’m putting on a show. Today, my didge really wanted to play, and the sound fairly resonated off the cave walls. Good vibes. The kid and his family loved it. So did I. Other hikers in the cave burst into applause. Ah, my fifteen seconds of fame …

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My view looking out of the cave. The hike down was a breeze. Just one more interaction …

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It just happened to be International Hug a Cactus day. In case you’re wondering, I just happened to notice that for some reason this big boy possessed no pointy bits. I think Leanna is getting used to me, by now. Ah, friendship. Tomorrow, I will be hitting the road, but I am hardly driving out of Leanna’s life. Nor will I be loosening my connection to the magic of this wonderful piece of earth.

Deeper appreciations linger. Inevitably, they change you. Inside – and out.

 

Back in the Superstitions

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One of the joys of my journey has been to reunite with Leanna, who lives in Apache Junction, AZ, a community which nestles into the Superstition Mountains. Here we are, on top of the world. And here is the picture I will be sending to my cardiologist …

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We ascended 1400 feet, a lot of it scrambling up all manner of rocky surfaces. Endurance checked out just fine. Here are some more shots from Sunday’s walk …

Note the rare site of water. Nature out here is massive and in your face and full of mind-boggling surprises. But the desert also provides an eye-opening study in the subtle and the micro, especially when it has a a few drops of water to work with …

More hike pics …

Next day, another hike, a different section of the Superstitions …

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More pics …

And this cool one …

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Not to mention this …

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And the moon thoughtfully posing with this big-ass rock …

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Leanna scaled a vertical face to get to this cave. I took the longer way up …

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The Day Two hike was technically an easier one, but I had to push myself harder, as I still hadn’t fully recovered from our excursion the day before. Leanna was a bit slower, too, but she still had plenty left in the tank. I had every excuse to call it a day for me, but then something crazy happened: Where I should have felt fatigue, I suddenly experienced exhilaration and a sense of breakthrough. Suddenly, I had energy to spare. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in this.

Meanwhile, a friggin’ crazy cholla cactus that thinks it’s a tree …

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Finally, back by the roadside …

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This chapel featured in the movie, Charro, starring Elvis. Always a successful hike that ends in a homage to the King.

 

Petrified Forest

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Now …

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255 or so million years ago, it looked like this. I wasn’t around back then.

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But these guys were.

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And maybe these guys, too.

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Here is what remains …

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Bits of once mighty trees, agatized into objects of amazing beauty.

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Badlands …

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Painted desert …

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Petroglyphs …

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A community once called this place home.

“One life; a little gleam of Time between two Eternities …” – Thomas Carlyle

 

Cathedral Rock

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This is why you always take at least one didgeridoo on a hike or climb – you never know when you will run into a tall blonde woman with a hula hoop. In Katie’s hands, the hoop became ballet. On my didge, I laid down some funk, and the summit jam was on.

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Time for some solitude. The scene is Cathedral Rock, Sedona. Nature is a cathedral. No walls to separate me from my god. Two days before, I got halfway up the rock before the bad weather rolled in. Now on a clear day, there was nothing to stop me but my fear.

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The source of my fear – a chimney formation that I had to scoot up. I made my leap of faith. The reward was exultation.

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But the sheer splendor of nature also induces a state of profound humilty.

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In the total scheme of things, we are but mere specks. Somehow, though, in my cathedral, to be humbled is to experience sublime exhilaration.

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. – John Muir

Sedona

 

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Part of me tells me I’m a heart patient, I shouldn’t be doing this. The other part of me says I’m a heart patient, I really need to be doing this. Here’s a shot of Cathedral Rock, scene of the crime …

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Sedona is full of Holy Effin’ Sh*t views. Here is one view from my camp …

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And another …

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Roughin’ it is the way to go. Indoors, this would taste like congealed moose turd. Outdoors, I have a feast fit for a king. I passed on the moose turd topping …

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At first, I thought this sign applied to didgeridoos. I was in a high-density vortex zone …

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The day before, I was in a high density alien zone, at Bell Rock …

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Now I’m warming myself by an open hearth at Firecreek Coffee Shop …

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To life …

 

With the Spirits of the Land

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Okay, this pic requires a bit of explanation …

Several days ago, in Apache Junction, AZ, I bid a tearful farewell to Leanna, who so kindly hosted me at her place for nearly a week. One of the joys of the road is the people I connect to. In Leanna, I found a true fellow soul. But then came the moment: I got out my travel didge for her to inscribe. We posed for a selfie together. A hug, some tears – time to hit the road.

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Heading north, I felt my head floating in a balloon above and behind my car. Somehow, semi-headless, I managed to keep my vehicle on a northerly course toward Camp Verde. I think I was 40 minutes into the trip when I realized I was no longer looking out at the ubiquitous Saguaro, the signature cactus of the Southwest Desert. I must have climbed a 1,000 or so feet by the time this happened. Not long after, I was driving through snow and evergreens at 6,000 feet.

Just before dusk, I pulled into a campsite off a Forest Service road, outside Camp Verde, 3,500 feet elevation. Just me and the desert and a brilliant sky.

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Pre-dawn, next morning …

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Then off to Montezuma Castle, where Indians dwelt in the cliff-face some 700 to 400 years ago. Then they moved on, to be absorbed into larger communities.

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Then, in the afternoon to Montezuma’s Well, a sinkhole that was home to Indians for about 4o0 years.

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I descended to the bottom. Time to break out the didgeridoo …

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When you feel the spirits of the land, you just feel it. No explanation. My ancient instrument calling out to an ancient people. The cliffs around the sinkhole created an echo chamber effect. In nothing flat, I was in another world, untethered from time and space.

When I posted the above pic on Facebook, one of my readers. Joy, commented: “World’s largest Kokopelli.” The plot thickens …

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And this is when Becky and her three delightful kids walked into my life. She, too, is on the road, together with her husband and her brood. I explained the didgeridoo to her in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration. Nikola Tesla used those words in reference to understanding the universe. Of course, were Tesla alive today, he would be playing the didge.

When one of the kids asked when Tesla died, I explained that technically it happened some 70 years ago in his room in the New Yorker Hotel, but that perhaps he merely entered another dimension. This, of course, made perfect sense to the kids and their mother. Did I mention we hit it right off?

Then it was time for Becky and the gang to make tracks, but not before exchanging contact info. Short encounters can have huge impacts.

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Breakfast next morning. Then off to see some more ruins, this time in Tuzigoot …

On the way there, I happened to drive by the world’s largest Kokopelli, but I didn’t have the presence of mind to pose with the big guy. This morning, at Joy’s prompting, I amended that oversight. Kokopelli is a fertility and trickster god venerated by the First People of the Southwest. His image – a hump-backed figure playing flute – is depicted on ancient petroglyphs throughout the Southwest.

Incidentally, the didge is a perfect match with the Native American flute. Many in my didge tribe are highly proficient in both instruments. In the past, I have had the opportunity to jam with flute-players, my low resonant drone supporting his or her throaty and haunting warbles. I’m convinced that had the First People of two distant continents had access to each other’s instruments, we would now have a wealth of enhanced music traditions. Maybe they exist in the world Tesla now occupies.

Of course it made sense playing my didge among the ruins, communing with the spirits of the land. Of course it made sense jamming with the big guy …

A New Friend

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The pics here show the wonders of nature, but this is really a piece about friendship. Here I am, with my new friend, Leanna, in the Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction, AZ.

Leanna has been a Facebook friend since 2011. That’s about the time she came across some of my pieces on the web. I always like to think my writing helps others, but in the summer of 2016 it was me who needed the help. As you may know by now, I experienced a simultaneous financial collapse, heart surgery, and the loss of a friend.

So here I was, lying on a bed in someone else’s house, feeling seriously debilitated and depressed, when I sent what amounted to a message in a bottle on Facebook: Once I recovered and wrapped up business, I let people know, I would be taking to the open road. Would any of my FB friends like to put me up (or put up with me) for a few nights?

The responses I received were immensely encouraging, enough to lift my depression and give me something to look forward to.

One of those who responded was Leanna. We had never met. But from her response I knew our paths would be crossing. I had no idea what to expect, and I’m sure neither did she, but we hit it right off. From the get-go, we just started talking and couldn’t stop.

One of the interests we have in common is getting out in nature. So it was, that she took me on a trail in the nearby Superstition Mountains. Okay, here’s some of the nature porn …

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And here I am, with my didgeridoo, among some ancient Native American petroglyphs …

And here’s a pertroglyph close-up …

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And one more item of nature porn. Note the boulder way in the back, impossibly balanced on a rock pillar. Did aliens place the boulder there? Is the petroglyph above really a depiction of a UFO?

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Actually, from what I learned from my recent stay in Joshua Tree National Park, what you see here amounts to a sort of sleight-of-hand from Mother Nature. These type of outcrops begin their life-cycle (so to speak) below the ground. The earth above eventually erodes, ultimately exposing oddly-stacked rocks.

This hardly precludes intergalactic visitors, of course. Just don’t give them too much credit. To bring this back to earth …

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This is my “Elvis” pizza, inspired by the King, himself. You are looking at pulled pork and caramelized onions (topped by ranch dressing) on a pizza base. My “long” version involves slow-cooking a pork butt, making my own barbecue sauce, and a slow rise with the dough (no cardboard crust). Then baking on a hot pizza stone. This one involved simply ready-made pulled pork and a normal rise in the dough, then (with the onions) in a pizza pan on an oven rack.

Still a great result. I love cooking for friends, and what better way to celebrate a new and valued friendship.

Something to Savor

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Just spent three days in Glendale, just outside of Phoenix, with friends Tony and Madonna. Our connection goes to my first book, LIVING WELL WITH DEPRESSION AND BIPOLAR DISORDER, which came out in 2006. Tony came across it in 2007.

Three years later, I began a blog, Knowledge is Necessity. Tony became a regular reader and frequent commenter. Later, we had a couple of occasions to meet up, together with his wife Madonna. We instantly hit it off.

In 2012, I let go of my blog. Life also got in the way. But my recent travails have created new opportunities, including the chance to reconnect. Here we are – top picture – having just completed the ritual of signing my travel didgeridoo and posing for a selfie.

Here I am, down below, savoring homemade bacon.

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The bacon became inspiration for some of my own home cooking. I stuck a little bit the leftover slab in my cassoulet. Cassoulet is a traditional French peasant bean and meat dish. Just about any combo of beans and meat and fowl works. As a final touch, you heat it in the oven (breadcrumbs optional) to get a crunchy crust.

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Cooking kills a variety of birds with one stone. First, your use of real ingredients means you’re not loading up on junk.

Second, you have the subjective feeling of your food tasting better. Instant gratification creates fleeting pleasure only. Working at something results in the joy of accomplishment, which lingers for a long time.

Third, prepping and cooking food is an excellent stress-buster. When you have a sharp knife going within millimeters of your fingers, you’re not thinking of your crap from the day. Moreover, you get into a healthy meditative flow.

Finally, the sociability aspect. There are few joys in life that compare to sharing food with good friends. This is what communion is all about.

After my heart surgery and recovery, for various reasons I had no opportunity to cook for others.

Last night, I had an experience to savor.

Back on the road …