We drove into Grand Canyon National Park around dinner time. The kids were naturally excited, having heard so much about it in years past.
After walking a section of the perimeter, we left the park with the sun. It was long dark before we made it across the Arizona/New Mexico border and into Gallup, the city we’d be staying in for the night. Years earlier, when our eldest was only a baby, LCB and I had spent a week with a church group working on the Navajo reservation near Gallup. Gallup had been where we restocked our supplies during the week, so in the morning, we pointed out a few spots of interest to the kids, and then headed north. This is where we ran smack dab into LCB’s family history.
Years ago, a couple of his family members worked on the Navajo reservation in various capacities, so we soon found ourselves steeped in stories from days long gone. (You will, of course, recall the man’s loquacious nature.)
While it seemed, for a while, as if the road and the stories would go on forever, we finally turned and headed west on another road that stretched long before us, a road made only of dirt the last time LCB had traveled it.
We drove for several miles until we hit several small settlements of houses scattered amid all that openness, and then stopped at the only store in town.
Afterward, we drove a short space further and stopped again, this time to climb a small incline to reach the ruins of what was once LCB’s family home. Years after they’d left, it had burned down, and had never been rebuilt.
I stood and imagined the life once lived there by so many of my in-laws, some young children at the time, the adults at the time younger than I am now. I imagined the lone walks along the dusty road to catch the school bus in the mornings, the overgrown pathway to the nearby church now browned by time, the crouch of the mountain lion just outside their window that morning so long ago.
It’s beautiful country; my pictures capture little of this and none of the magnitude of the land itself. But it’s also harsh country, home to rattlesnakes and weathered landscape and few comforts. While it’s a place that strengthens many, I imagine it hardens some, too.
We took our time at the house, but eventually LCB and the kids determined it was time to return to the climbing sites of his childhood, and so we drove to one of the “rocks” where the climbing commenced.
I’ve looked, and to my knowledge, there is no word to encapsulate how much I hated the next three or four hours. Among other things, I questioned the sanity of LCB and all those who have ever felt the need to climb anything more than ten feet off the ground. Seriously, I just don’t think that is at all necessary ever, and I would be totally fine being the bad mom that never lets her kids climb more than ten feet off the ground ever. This is one of the many areas where LCB and I differ. In my mind, God made rocks, cliffs, and mountains pretty much just so people can take pictures of them. In LCB’s mind, all heights are meant to be climbed and conquered. In my mind, no restroom once you reach the top is problematic. In his mind, it’s all good.
The menfolk humored Baby-Girl by letting her climb with them for a few minutes until she realized that while she was tough, she was not hardcore. So they brought her halfway back down again where I met them (y’all know I wasn’t going near that rock even with a mental ten-foot pole), and then proceeded back up again.
Baby-Girl and I stayed by the car and waited. She talked nonstop in her power voice (she knows how to pack a vocal punch) while I urged volume reduction and listened for rattle sounds; we were deep in rattlesnake country. Before the climb, LCB had also done me the great kindness of telling me about a time when his father had climbed the rock, had an insulin reaction at the top, and realized he’d forgotten his sugar.
And so I muddled through, making small stupid talk with Baby-Girl, replaying the insulin reaction story in my mind and trying to bask in the comforting knowledge that we had a snakebite kit that may or may not work according to the experts. Oh, and for extra fun, I studied the skies, watching the progress of a storm that threatened to form.
The thing about the desert is this: When the storm comes rolling across all that openness, there aren’t many places of refuge. You can look for the crags, of course, but they’re not always easy to find, and they may be filled with dangers of their own. So if you’re like me, what do you do with your time in the openness? You start to bring up other areas of your life that need to be wrestled with. You know, the doubts about all you’ve been asked to do in life, all that seems far beyond your capacity, all that keeps you up at night or wakes you in the pre-dawn hours?
My in-laws had been brought to this place by faith; here I was, all these years later, wrestling now with a part of my own. And so it rumbled: I can’t be the mom that lets her kids climb rocks this afternoon, I can’t be the teacher I’m being asked to be this year, I can’t be the person that my faith is calling me to be right now.
I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.
In my wild conflagration of thoughts, I circled back to this: During the time LCB’s family lived on the reservation, my mother-in-law had four children, one diabetic husband, and no money. And this was the 1960s, where (just as one example) the time to the hospital might have been triple what it is now.
I’m a decade older than she was at the time, with three children to her four, and it’s 2015. I have conveniences and comforts in my life now she could only have dreamed of then, and I have no earthly idea how I’d do now what she did then.
For years, LCB and I have had a dream of spending a summer in a new place, to fully acclimate to a new environment for three months, to get just a sliver of the adventure of another life. Over a decade ago, we each picked a place. LCB’s is Homer, Alaska. Mine is the deserts of New Mexico or Arizona.