This year my husband and I have been focused on our family business. It has resulted for us in less time traveling in the Nevada desert and we sometimes long for those opportunities to commune with Him in those vast and beautiful spaces. But God has blessed our work here and we feel Him with us every step of the way. (more…)
Unionville, Nevada is a gift. The moment of its arrival is always perfect. In Unionville a vast silent beauty vanquishes my thoughts, my fears, my dreams. But leaves behind a fantasy of living there. My mind is too contrived to know what is good for me. Those mountains, they evidence God’s mighty ways. Standing before them I apprehend my smallness. In submission, there is wisdom. I feel blessed to experience it. (more…)
Sixteen days ago my husband and I drove out to the Kamma Mountains of the Nevada desert. An entire year had passed since we had been there. Neither of us spoke as our wheels crunched over mile after mile of gravel road. Each was preoccupied with memories of our last trip to the Kamma Mountains when, during one day, we sighted 21 mustangs. Interspersed with those memories was apprehension about what we would–or would not–find when we arrived this time. (more…)
Campers planning to visit the Tahoe National Forest this summer should be aware that due to extreme fire danger, campfires are forbidden, even in campgrounds where they have traditionally been allowed. Charcoal fires are also banned. Some campgrounds have okayed the use of camp stoves if a permit is obtained. For those of us who enjoy solitude and are admittedly a bit selfish, the campfire ban is advantageous in that the flocks of folks which typically fill the forest during these peak weeks of summer, seem to have opted out this camping season. My husband and I recently spent three nights at Bear Valley Campground as the sole campers there, the first time in five years that we’ve experienced such a quiet stretch, including stays in the spring and fall. On the fourth night, a young man, Vlad, arrived with his dog in a VW bus. Vlad had just graduated San Jose State and, to celebrate, was taking a leave of absence from his job as a mechanic to travel to Yosemite. We invited Vlad to join us out on the bend at sunset where we had become accustomed to warming ourselves by the radiant vista. The bend–nothing more in mid-afternoon than a rough stretch of road with an unremarkable view–revealed in the slanted evening light, canyons extending to Sierraville. On that night it became a sanctuary, a place to fellowship over God’s masterful artistry in the absence of campfires and s’mores.
Location: Bear Valley Campground is located 17 miles north of Truckee on Highway 89, then 6 empty miles east on Cottonwood Creek, an unpaved road. The campground features 10 free campsites with one source of non-potable water (boil for at least 10 minutes) and 2 vault toilets. This year there is no host at the campground but rangers do make daily rounds. (more…)
I’ve always thought that the best portraits result when the subject is unaware that he is being photographed. Recently, using a telephoto lens, I was able to take such a photo of my husband. He was perched on an isolated 8,000 foot ridge in the Tahoe National Forest, binoculars in hand, absorbed in the view. (If his brow appears furrowed, it is because he is trying to determine if a white speck in the distance is Sardine Lookout–a tower miles away but at comparable elevation. We visited Sardine Lookout earlier that day.) In the background a bank of clouds lends an ethereal feeling to the image, while in the foreground course dry dirt and brown-edged leaves bring to mind a possible drought. When I gaze at this portrait, it reminds me of everything I love about my husband and our travels together in the Tahoe National Forest. It also transcends the personal and alerts me to how deeply I enjoy an elevated viewpoint. Higher ground. Lifting my eyes toward heaven.
The story of Zoey Mojave began for us with the death of our Pointer, Choko. Choko died in January. He had lived with us for eight years, from the time we adopted him and he dove onto my husband’s lap for the brief ride home, licking my husband’s face and spinning in excitement as I strained to focus on the road. In March, we drove four hours to meet Zoey, at an appointment sanctioned by the Weimaraner Rescue group which was boarding her at a pristine private kennel behind a Modesto suburb orchard. When we arrived, the kennel owner wasn’t there but her assistant was expecting us. Despite the assistant’s pearl-smooth skin, she was graying at the temples and might have seemed a bit beleaguered, were she not so determined to do a good job.
“We’re here to adopt Zoey,” I stated matter-of-factly.
I can’t explain how but I knew from the moment I saw Zoey’s photo on the Rescue website that she was going to be our dog. In that photo, taken through the bars of her kennel, she appeared empty-eyed, slightly thin, sad and a bit lost but not as tragic as some of the dogs I saw–or as our Plott Hound, Grecko, when he dons a pathetic face in an attempt to earn an extra scrap of meat. Grecko and Choko grew up together and, prior to the Pointer’s death, didn’t spend a day apart.
I knew that the assistant’s query–”Sight unseen?”–did not refer to concerns about the Weimaraner’s appearance. Bright yellow eyes, soft fawn fur. People commonly approach us to tell us how beautiful Zoey is. She is luminous like a movie star, or a monk.
But she is a Weimaraner. And a Weimaraner has the canine equivalent of a MENSA-qualifying IQ, sufficient stamina to run a marathon and enough slight of snout to snatch your dinner before you notice that she’s near.
And Zoey was a rescue. Had she been neglected? Abused? What sort of life had she lived? Had her owners cared for her? Deeply? At all? Would her behavior become predictable in time or had she suffered unrecoverable trauma?
Sweet was the word that caught my attention on the Rescue site in the sparse description next to Zoey’s photo. And then: Found tied to the door of the shelter.
The loss of Choko was incredibly hard on our family; we really needed a Sweet dog. We didn’t require a perfect dog but we neither could we handle a particularly challenging one, at least not temperament-wise. I wasn’t even certain that we were ready for another dog but Grecko was sleeping all day and my husband wasn’t sleeping all night and while browsing rescue sites I saw Zoey’s photo next to the word Sweet. “We’re coming for you Zoey,” I cooed, even before I realized what I was saying. Then I set to work on my husband.
“I’d prefer a Pointer,” he said, in a tone which did not invite discussion.
Oh, the poor Pointer, I thought, to be compared to Choko, our ever-faithful companion and fellow desert sojourner for so many years.
Gently I pointed out to my husband the unfairness of such an arrangement. Adding tactfully that Weimaraners and Pointers have similar traits…both are highly intelligent, agile, fast, high-strung, affectionate, demanding and rewarding (all qualities my husband loved in Choko)…after which my husband sort of…conceded.
Before he could change his mind, I filled out the application on the Weimaraner Rescue website. A couple of days later, we were notified that they thought us well-qualified. They did not think, however, that we would be allowed to adopt Zoey.
“She’s young and healthy,” they said. “Most likely she will be adopted by someone ahead of you on our waiting list. But one of our representatives will contact you about other candidates that might be suitable for your adoption.”
I was at a loss as to how to explain to them that we were already in love with Zoey (even my husband, by then, had succumbed to my cooing of Zoey’s name.) So we waited. In silence.
And two days later, received a call. “We think Zoey would be perfect for you.”
No one knew Zoey’s real name of course and by the time we met her I wasn’t prepared to assume that she could easily adapt to one more change.
We added “Mojave” a few weeks later when I learned from yet another volunteer in the Rescue organization that Zoey had been Found tied to the door of the shelter in a small town on the edge of the Mojave Desert. The shelter was operated by the police department and consisted of a kiosk and several outdoor kennels. The town had a tiny budget so rescues were held for only one week before they were euthanized. No exceptions. The Weimeranar Rescue group discovered Zoey on the town’s website but couldn’t arrange transportation north for her in time, so one of the police officers took her home because he thought she was too Sweet to die. Northern California Weimaraher Rescue sent a car for Zoey as soon as they could. They delivered her to the private kennel where we met her for the first time. That morning, after observing Zoey in an outdoor ring with Grecko, the kennel owner’s assistant said, ”I don’t think these two will have a problem.”
Zoey climbed into our car. And slept curled on my lap for the entire four-hour drive home.
Shortly after we arrived, she pulled a roasted chicken from the counter onto the floor and nibbled at one wing. We rinsed off the bird and ate it.
In the days that followed, Zoey embezzled a tower of toilet paper (she uses it to make confetti,) two tiny yellow blankets intended for a neighbor’s baby shower, a bottle of blueberry honey, three pens and an avocado.
Nights we put her to rest in an old overstuffed chair at the foot of our bed. She shimmied over the top of the chair onto our bed and slinked up the mattress until she lay between us, silent as the moon. When ordered back to her chair she pretended to sleep until we snoozed before she set out on the prowl again.
Despite many groggy mornings, we gradually all became friends and eventually fell in love. Even Grecko, whom I was certain would die of a broken heart after losing Choko and who was at first peeved by Zoey’s energy and antics, fell in love with her. Now the two of them constantly frolic and Grecko is more vivacious than ever, it stunned me to realize one day.
My husband still mourns Choko but Zoey leans against his legs and climbs onto his lap and nuzzles him with the fuzzy tip of her head and leaps toward him when he walks through the door so he can’t help but love her and in loving her he is happier.
I am grateful that Zoey has completed our family. She loves us, deeply, generously, exuberantly…and we her.
We recently traveled to the Sierras with Zoey but have not yet visited the desert. We have been reticent to go, with so many perfect memories of Choko.
But we are contemplating a trip to the Mojave…
Author’s note: We would like to extend our genuine thanks to Northern California Weimaraner Rescue, a non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing Weimaraners. NCWR provided pre-adoption screening of Zoey, medical care for her pre-adoption needs, and generous post-adoption support in the form of shared knowledge and experience.
Weimaraners, due to their abundant intelligence and energy, require acute supervision and a huge investment of love in the forms of frequent attention, affection, discipline, play and exercise. Popularized in modern culture by photographer William Wegman, these dogs do not–without extensive training–sit still for dress up and portraits. Please adopt responsibly.
My husband and I would like to thank all of you who so kindly sent your condolences following the death of our beloved German Shorthaired Pointer, Choko. It was such a comfort to hear from so many of our blogging friends during our time of loss.
With Choko on my heart, I have been reflecting on past losses and memories of final moments with loved ones. A favorite is that of my last conversation with my father, a quiet, contemplative man who died young of lung cancer. He had long departed the metal hulls where he contracted mesothelioma putting insulation in ships. He’d worked his way into an elite position facilitating talks between buyers and shipbuilders: what would work, what wouldn’t. There was no solution for the cancer he’d derived from asbestos in the insulation.
A few months before my father died I visited my parents in a small Mississippi ship-building community and later at their home in Maine, to which they returned when my father became too ill to work. I flew by red-eye from San Francisco to Portland, dreading what I might find when I arrived, admiring a mango-red sunrise over Denver. My mother met me at the airport in Portland and on the drive to our home town, reported that my father had lost a lot more weight.
Inside my parent’s house, I kissed my mother again and went directly to my father. He laid in the formal living room where friends had placed a bed when he was no longer able to climb the stairs. I could not wake him. I called to my mother and felt my heart break as she entered.
“He was fine when I left to pick you up,” she said.
Together and alternately we attempted to rouse my father. Eventually he opened his eyes. He called me by my sister’s name. I gently corrected him. My mother departed to the kitchen to prepare soft-boiled eggs for his breakfast, confident that a bit of industry and nourishment would reverse this onset. I sat by my father’s side. His translucent skin shone on his bones. I reached for his once fleshy hand. His eyes closed. He spoke.
“I don’t know if I’m ready for this.”
I was not prepared to be thrust into such a conversation so soon. I was jet-lagged and stupored. I could think of nothing profound to say. So I tried to buy myself some time.
“Ready for what, Dad?”
He allowed a dramatic pause before replying, his voice replete with amusement, “Breakfast.”
Moments later he died, still holding my hand.
Much later my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with bone cancer. I had just bought a new home in the Santa Cruz Mountains and abruptly left rooms filled with unpacked boxes to travel to Maine and care for her. When I was growing up, she was my haven; while she was dying, I would be hers.
I stayed for a month with her, naively attempting to tell her once how I sorry I was for her suffering, how much I would miss her. She sshh-d me and said:
“I’ve loved you all my life and you’ve loved me all of yours. That’s all that matters.”
I’ve come to understand that the way we die says a lot about the way we lived.
My father lived with courage and humor.
My grandmother lived to make the family so dear to her feel loved.
Choko lived as if each day were his last. He defied gravity and sometimes authority and often common sense. He climbed trees and swam lakes and ran 50 miles for every 10 we walked in the Nevada desert. In California once when he was a puppy he flew off a 15-foot cliff into the Pacific Ocean during a raging storm with a high surf, was carried out to sea, swam the length of a nearby beach, struggled to shore, and returned to us as casually as if he had taken a dip.
His friendship was as faithful as the sun.
He died in my husband’s arms. We wept as he lay limp and unresponsive on my husband’s chest–when suddenly, swiftly and with all his might, Choko raised his head and delivered three final kisses to my husband’s cheek before dropping his head one last time.
It helps when grieving to gently–never radically–break with routine and accede to the unfamiliar; it makes the absences less obvious, the pain less acute. So instead of writing about the Nevada desert in this post, I thought I would share a sunset my husband and I recently witnessed near our home in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This spot overlooks Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It is so elevated that the Pacific Ocean is visible in the distance, more than thirty miles away. Often the Santa Cruz Mountains trap coastal fog but this particular evening was incredibly clear. While I photographed the sunset, my husband gathered blossoms from a nearby Manzanita and needles from a pine. Ever the survivalist he, upon our return home, used them to brew a tea which was high in Vitamin C and invigorating…like sipping a forest…timeless…and free.
May the Lord bless and keep you until we meet again.
My husband and I have never traveled in the Nevada desert without our dogs. This week we lost, after a short illness, our German Short-Haired Pointer pictured in this portrait with my husband. We have wonderful memories of journeying with Choko in the desert and were hoping for many more. We are bereft at the loss of this beloved family member.
I will be taking a break from blogging during this period of grief and adjustment. Please know that you remain in my thoughts and my prayers.
Love and Blessings, Vivian
These are my favorite Nevada desert sunset images of 2012. I’ve discovered that there are certain places where the chances of seeing a beautiful desert sunset are greater than others. Often when my husband and I go out exploring for the day, I start mid-afternoon looking at my watch and urging him to arrive at a certain destination by a particular hour–depending on the season, weather, and what I witnessed the night before. Fortunately, he’s a generous man and happy to accommodate my requests.
“If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.” — G.K. Chesterton, Essayist
The desert sunset photographs in this gallery were taken (from left to right and top to bottom):
- Imlay, Nevada
- Majuba Mountains, Nevada
- West Humboldt Range, Nevada
- Antelope Valley, Nevada
- Rye Patch Reservoir, Nevada
The featured image in this post was taken near the foothills of the Eugene Mountains.
“Sunsets are so beautiful that they almost seem as if we were looking through the gates of heaven.” — John Lubbock, English Biologist
Four years ago my husband and I broke down one afternoon in a remote Nevada desert canyon where the temperatures hovered around 100 degrees. We covered the car with towels for shade, prayed, made a plan and, by the grace of God, were rescued within a matter of hours by strangers arriving in the canyon to camp. Despite the speedy rescue, the breakdown became a defining moment for us because one of the big “what if’s” that confront every wilderness traveler was from then on a “remember when.”
My husband and I routinely but reticently break one of the fundamental rules of desert wilderness travel–always travel with another party. We are eremitic travelers–meaning that solitary travel is for us a means of deepening our intimate relationship with God. The decision to travel alone comes with added risk and responsibility so we work hard to be prepared. A triage is a useful model for establishing a hierarchy of preparedness. Although triage refers to rapid assessment and prioritization of injuries, I like to use the concept in reverse to prioritize prevention of predictable medical threats.
The preeminent consideration in a survival situation is core body temperature. You can live three weeks without food and three days without water. But within three hours a fluctuation in core body temperature of merely a few degrees is potentially fatal. Therefore the largest allocation of space in and on our Land Rover–after the tools and equipment required to maintain (and, if necessary, liberate) the vehicle–is for clothing, bedding and shelter. Water occupies the second-largest apportionment of our space. And a moderate but sufficient amount of space is allotted for food.
Being prepared requires a lot of hard work and constant management of our gear, our vehicle and our supplies. It’s all worth it, though, when we roll out onto the road and enjoy the ride.
These are my favorite Nevada desert sunrise images of 2012. Not every morning in the Nevada desert begins with a beautiful sunrise. Sometimes clouds or fog obscure the sun’s rays or draw a gray curtain across the desert sky. When that happens, the secret to seeing a glorious sunrise is to get up the next morning and try again.
And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 2 Peter 1:19
With the passing of 2012, I am filled with gratitude for the beautiful sights and experiences the Nevada desert held last year for my husband and me. Many thanks to all of our readers who in shared that journey with us–and to those of you have just arrived, welcome. I have been touched by all of your comments and often reflect on them. I am moved to address several exchanges pertaining to the natural world as a venue or vehicle for solitary worship. There is diversity among those comments, with a portion of readers strongly inclined to worship alone in the wilderness to the exclusion of formal venues. Others have remarked that they are drawn to both wild and formally ordained venues–but that not all those with whom they fellowship in the latter approve of their relationship with the former. Over the years, my husband and I have met with some less than gracious responses to our eremitical lifestyle from members of our church, so we understand.
Yet solitude is–commonly or occasionally–a component of worship for many devotees and in this sometimes harried world, can be useful in alleviating stimuli which interfere with our ability to seek and know God. My husband and I are eremitical travelers, a life to which we are called. We are blessed to embrace solitary worship at home and in the wilderness, most often the Nevada desert. But sometimes I find myself driftng toward worldly concerns and, at those times, I find inspiration in scripture and in the words and works of fellow pilgrims.
Another source of encouragement for me is the newsletter published each quarter by Raven’s Bread Ministries. Raven’s Bread Ministries provides a venue for hermits and others drawn to solitude to share insights and experiences with regard to lifestyle and worship. Whether or not you eremitically inclined, I suggest a visit to the Raven’s Bread for a lovely respite.
At its best, solitude brings with it desired aloneness but not loneliness. The aloneness begets a certain emptiness which leads to silence. Silence stills a listening heart in order to be penetrated by the Word of God. Simplicity empties oneself of distractions and separates one from worldly cares. With solitude, silence and simplicity, peace and unexpected joy follows when it is lived intentionally in the presence of God. – Raven’s Bread: Food for Those in Solitude; November 2012 “Thoughts in Solitude”
One of the greatest challenges my husband and I faced in 2012 was the near-disintegration of our church, a church we have attended faithfully (when not traveling) for nearly 10 years. An act of nepotism on the part of one of our trusted church leaders produced chaos in our congregation and among the other leaders. That leader has been recognized and respected–not only in our church but throughout the world–for his life of ministry. He has created models for serving many of the broken among us: addicts, alcoholics, the mentally ill, the homeless. Because of his profound service, when he announced that he was installing his son as our new pastor and stepping down to a lessor role, the congregation and leaders were accepting of the change–until it became apparent to everyone but him that his son was not a fit for the position; thus the unraveling began.
My husband and I were traveling often during that period, deep into the Nevada desert wilderness. There we found a sanctuary which was wholly steeped in the presence of God. In the vistas we witnessed the vastness of His kingdom. In the elements we felt the power of His will. Often we drove for days in complete solitude. We camped in Unionville and on the edge of Black Rock Desert. We were blessed to see mustangs, moonrises, shooting stars, and sunsets like gardens drawn across the sky
When we returned to our church we were filled with peace. And able to accept that our beloved pastor, a man who had served God for his entire life, had simply succumbed to a lapse in judgement, wanting the best for his son. But not everyone agreed or was willing to forgive. Our church shrunk to a quarter of its former size. Of the members besides us who remained, many were bereft and accusatory.
Ironically, my husband and I discovered that the intimate relationships we had forged with God through our Nevada desert travels seemed to help us resist the disorienting effects of the upheavals. For that, we were grateful and hope any of you who are experiencing conflicts as a result of your worship choices, will take heart.
As we eagerly look to the new year, we are filled with anticipation for the beauty and blessings it will bring. We look forward to sharing them with you and to learning the good news of yours.
Love and Blessings for 2013,
My husband and I were exploring in the Majuba Mountains of the Nevada high desert when he spotted a cross on a distant peak. I longed to have a closer look so we chugged up the mountain, searching for a corresponding road. We picked and chose our route but nevertheless made two wrong turns before backtracking and regaining our direction. Eventually one road ended within walking distance of the cross. As I emerged from the Land Rover the wind attacked my ears so I reached for my arctic hat, the one I wear when the weather would otherwise drive me inside.
Before we hiked to the cross, we poked around and found a few abandoned mines. One of the shafts seemed interminable. My husband tossed a rock into it and we heard it bounce again and again….and again……..and again…………………………………and again………
We walked to the back of the shale-covered hill and began to climb. I sought footholds in weedy shoots with withered tendrils tucked among the shards.
When we arrived at the cross, the wind tried to heave us from the peak; we dug in.
And wondered at this enormous structure–perhaps a memorial for a fallen miner?
We stayed for a long time, grateful to be in the shelter of our Lord.
On a whim one day, my husband and I decided to explore Willow Creek Road outside of Mill City in the Nevada desert. We exited Highway 400 and crossed Dun Glen Flat to the East Range foothills. Gradually we ascended the mountainside and observed evidence of a watershed: a tall willow tree, no doubt the road’s namesake, followed by a lovely concentration of junipers. Within a few moments we came upon this pond with a view of the Humboldt Range and snow-covered Star Peak.
I have seen Star Peak hundreds of times before. I have viewed it from the village of Imlay, Imlay Canyon, Imlay Summit, Rye Patch Reservoir, Antelope Plains, and the Humboldt River. I have gazed at it from Prince Royal Canyon Road as the sun set and the moon rose while my husband played his harmonica.
I have watched Star Peak vanish into a bank of clouds while I sipped coffee in a navy camp chair, nestled under a fuzzy blanket with a faux Navajo design.
On the road to Unionville, I once stared as Star Peak snatched a few black clouds which then unleashed on it a fury of white flurries.
Star Peak is a landmark: a stark protrusion; a regional north star.
And now it is a Shangri-La.
With the exception of the sky, a neutral palette dominates the Nevada high desert, including the flora which, in many other regions, is treasured for its ability to add interest and light to a landscape. But in the northern Nevada desert the vast initial monotony precludes many visitors from having a closer look, compelling them to dismissively move on.
“There is nothing out there,” is a comment I’ve heard repeatedly in reference to the high desert, followed by, “It’s dry,” or “It’s hot.”
One friend said, “It’s windy.”
My mother, a poet, expressed her sentiment about the region with a few expansive words: ”I like New Mexico.” My mother has seen the Nevada high desert once, many years ago, driving from Utah to California on highway 80. Given her brief exposure, I like to interpret her response in the context of a conversation that my husband and I had with a car salesman in Santa Cruz, California:
“I used to fly over the Nevada high desert often on my way to Canada. I’d look down and think to myself, who would live out here? There’s nothing, nothing. Then some friends invited me to go with them on an off-road trip from Reno to Winnemucca. The moment we entered our first canyon I began to really see the desert. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was.”
It seems to me that these conversations about the Nevada high desert are reflective of our approaches to the landscape of life. If we don’t succumb to appearances, if we are patient, if we look carefully and watch closely, we might not miss that moment when God forces a bloom.
Dear Friends and Followers: My husband and I have had to cut short a planned long sojourn in the Nevada desert due to complications with equipment and scheduling–but I’m delighted to share (in this and coming posts) a few recent photographs which capture the late fall mood and light of the desert during a period I refer to as the Nevada Desert Blues, when the sky displays an array of pearlescent blues and grays.
This shot of a desert road was taken on the way to Kyle’s Hot Springs when we detoured to explore. We never made it to the hot springs but in the true spirit of desert travel, we discovered some beautiful views. –Vivian
Every so often, my sensitive side catches me off guard, and something triggers a release of tears that makes me ponder, "Am I nuts to let this affect me?" Recently horses seem to be a recurring theme in my life. An equestrian since early childhood, I 'brake' for a well-bred horse with dinner-plate jaw, arched neck and intelligent eyes.
A few weeks ago, I encountered a detour in nearby San Vicente (Ecuador), where a 'tope' event blocked traffic along the outgoing lanes of traffic.
So often the plans God has for us are greater than anything we could imagine. In the Nevada desert He shows me that again and again.
One morning I awoke and debated whether I had time for coffee. I pulled up a corner of a curtain and peaked outside. In the east a tiny patch of sky brightened just above the horizon. I slid my bare feet into fleece-lined boots and slipped out the door.
At the fence line I photographed the sunrise–persimmon, lemon, pomegranate–colors that made me thirst for something more nourishing than coffee. But as beautiful as the colors were, competing black clouds prevented me from getting a clear shot.
Cold rain drops plopped onto my head, my shoulders, my fingers as I cupped my camera. The neighbor’s fat white terrier appeared, sniffed at me from a distance and drifted.
I turned toward the Eugene Mountains and froze at the sight of pure gold light reflected in the clouds and on the mountain tops. A rainbow arched across Antelope Plains, one end dipping into the Eugene’s. Below, the freeway, an overpass, an exit.
Vision of heaven and earth.
I am often fascinated by the process of reflecting on and writing about my Nevada desert experiences. My husband and I have shared some remarkable times in the Nevada desert, most unforgettable, many adored. Then again, memory is pliable. It can be prodded and prompted. It can be drawn across a framework of facts: tugged, fitted and pinned. Or stretched so thinly that reality tears, leaving a scant remnant of actual events, compelling us to weave a past from imagination and longing or–if we are content to linger in memory and contemplation–mysteries of God.
“…I look back now and derive as much or more from the memory as I did from the actuality.” -Ansel Adams: Letters and Images 1916-1984 Edited by Mary Street Alinder and Andrea Gray Stillman
To my cherished friends and followers: I am taking a hiatus from blogging during which I will not be posting or commenting regularly. Thank you for the joy of your companionship this year and I wish each of you peaceful and blessed holidays. With love, Vivian
The brooding blues of this Nevada desert sunset are enchantingly dreamy as the region begins its descent into piercing nights and compellingly cold days.
It’s not too soon.
It’s not to soon to mourn the tens of thousands of wild horses that have died in round-ups, in captivity, in spirit or in flesh. It’s not too soon to mourn those sold by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to a known slaughter profiteer–and which have since vanished. It’s not too soon to mourn mustangs scheduled to be rounded up,” zeroed out,” trucked to slaughter, held captive in spiritual and all too often physical distress.
Neither is it too soon to mourn for the BLM.
It’s not too soon to mourn the agency whose mishapen guardianship of our mustangs has resulted in this fact: that more of our wild horses reside in captivity than on the range—despite that there are hundreds of thousands of acres of federal lands available, where the horses have long thrived.
It’s not too soon to mourn the agency which, in response to wild horse activists’ concerns, now profers a plan to establish ”ecosanctuaries:” designated zones where non-reproducing herds, (herds rendered sterile by the BLM,) will iive on display to a paying public, a public which, in the minds of the BLM, will embrace the opportunity to view the last days in the history of these magnificent animals.
It is not too soon.
My journey to faith began with two tragedies, disparate in time but so proximate in nature as to seem simultaneous in memory. I wish I could tell you that I relied on God’s strength to see me through but the truth is I took a very long fall. And wandered in a wilderness without beauty. Yet it was my grandfather who, before he took his life, instilled in me a love of adventure and an appreciation for wilderness survival skills. I reflected on those gifts one morning as I climbed the canyon above Unionville while my husband garnered some needed sleep. I had never ascended the canyon before and did not know the area much above the hamlet clumped on the otherwise isolated east end of the West Humboldt Range. My husband and I were camped behind a ridge above that hamlet. We would have bedded further up the canyon but a slender bent alder blocked our Land Rover’s passage.
As I prepared to depart camp that morning, my husband admonished me in a groggy voice to take a walkie-talkie so I grabbed one along with my camera.
I inhaled deeply the air chilled by night. Dawn’s gold light seeped over the canyon walls. Ahead of me our two hounds traversed the trail as if weaving an invisible braid.
A juniper tree with gray berries half as plump as cherries roused a memory of my grandfather. Juniper berries, he had taught me–indicating the small wizened ones we had in Maine where we lived–could be boiled into a tea which aids digestion. At the age of nine I had a cast iron stomach so I wasn’t motivated to put that knowledge to the test.
A small stream bisected the dusty trail, its moisture supporting a tiny patch of bright green grass and the hint of a leafy arbor. I regretted that my husband was missing so much beauty but was grateful that I felt comfortable hiking solo.
Soon after I came under my grandfather’s tutelage I began to set out on adventures of my own. Interwoven with those sojourns were other lessons. Often my younger brother joined in. Together he and I learned to distinguish the poisonous red snake berry from the minty red bunch berry and to tap maple trees for sap on snow shoes my grandfather crafted for us by hand.
Once when we were all together at the Maine shore my grandfather told my brother and me that we could eat the petals of wild roses we found in the dunes. I placed one of the smooth pink wafers on my tongue, discovering within it a delicate sweetness. And began to feast.
When I came upon wild rose bushes in the canyon above Unionville, the sight delighted me. But the petals were waning and I could imagine their mushy texture tinged with a bitter taste.
Much further up the trail I spotted a red shotgun shell. I considered picking it up to preserve the pristineness of the area but, for a reason I couldn’t quite identify, walked on.
My grandfather used to lay his shotgun across his lap to clean it, a box of red shells within his reach on the hassock. He hunted often and as a result we always had fresh deer meat. My brother was 16 when he began to join him.
I have since learned that access to fire arms increases the risk of suicide. I was in my early twenties when my grandfather killed himself, unwilling to face his cancer. I might have been able to understand but I was falling falling falling and never seemed to land.
But I hit with a terrible thud after my brother, confronted with a serious problem of his own, followed in our grandfather’s footsteps. My younger brother. My only brother. After his death I lay stunned for a long time. When I arose I was lost. The sky, the trees, the grass, the canyon, were gone. In their stead were darkness and inner chaos.
In my childhood, God always met me in the wilderness and I somehow knew He would keep me safe. But during my teenage years I often denied Him, prone to fits of rebellion. After my grandfather’s suicide I declared myself an atheist.
Water is a welcome sight In the desert. The clear silent stream we had seen at the beginning of our hike crossed our trail again and again. I paused in the shade of the foliage it fed while the dogs lapped long and slurpily. The filtering sun warmed the canyon floor.
The heightened light inspired me so I took out my camera and wandered a bit, pulled by what I saw through my lens.
Suddenly the incline steepened, forcing me to push from deeper inside.
A hairpin turn in the trail abruptly changed our direction. Then another and another. This pattern persisted for about forty-five minutes. The scrub vanished and with it the scent of sage. Flat bare ledges emerged, their jagged bits suggesting a lunar landscape.
Without warning we arrived at the trail’s end, perched at a sheer 1,500-foot drop. I recoiled and grabbed instinctively for the dogs.
There was a time after the suicides when I would have contemplated jumping. Even before the suicides, I considered ending my life. Suicide often has a genetic component. That factor is compounded when a completed suicide becomes a chapter in a family’s history, placing surviving members at much greater risk than the population at large.
Independent of a genetic influence, friends, co-workers, classmates and other survivors in the suicide’s circle can become at risk. Suicide can be disorienting. When one suffering person ends his life, others somtimes follow. But on that morning in Unionville Canyon, with the sun still concealed behind the peaks, I basked in the ambient brightness. And turned with the dogs to begin my descent.
Many years after the suicides of my brother and my grandfather the enormity of the pain subsided. Even then, I still struggled to understand why. And within me burned a little ball of residual anguish, causing me to weep often.
It wasn’t until I grew weary of the pain and turned to faith, that I one day noticed I had stopped weeping.
“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ” –Phillipians 4:7
Suicide, I finally understood, is and always will be incomprehensible. Only God could restore me to peace.
Coming down the steepest part of the descent, I recognized the spot where I had started taking pictures and discovered there a fork in the trail that I hadn’t previously noticed. Uncertain which way to proceed, I chose one trail, traveled it for a few hundred yards, turned around, and walked back to the other.
I fingered the walkie-talkie in my pocket, knowing I could call my husband–but he could hardly advise me on a route from his position at camp and summoning him would earn me a gentle scolding for having become distracted by my camera.
I said a little prayer and started down the second trail, this time vigilant. With each step, I hoped to see something I would recognize, even knowing how improbable that was at a point in the hike when the trail, the flora, the canyon views appeared identical.
A few more steps. Then I saw the red shotgun shell.
- One million people die by suicide each year, deeply affecting many millions more.
- November 17th will mark the 14th Annual International Survivors of Suicide Day. A survivor of suicide is anyone affected by the suicide of a family member, friend, neighbor, classmate, co-worker or other person close to him or her.
- I am not a health care professional. The experiences described herein are personal.
- If you are suffering from suicide ideation, please call a suicide hotline and seek immediate professional help.
It has been my privilege to become acquainted with so many accomplished bloggers. I’ve enjoyed your works and companionship as I flutter awake sipping coffee at a pine table facing the window and before I retire to evening prayers. Because I live in an isolated area and tend by choice to an heremetic life, blogging has been a wonderful way for me to connect with other writers, photographers, artists and devotees. You have inspired, challenged, cheered, enlightened and delighted me. Many blessings as you set about your week employing your gifts from God to shine a light. Love, Vivian
1 Corinthians 12:7-9
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit”
My husband and I grew up on opposite sides of the country. Yet we share early childhood memories of learning to love God through a relationship with solitude and the wilderness.
Together we often retreat to the northern Nevada desert, an uncommonly isolated region which restores and renews our cherished childhood blessings.
Despite that we are seeking solitude, we never tire of one another’s presence, joined as we are in the joy of contemplating God’s love.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14