August, 10, 2016Personal

To Infinity and Beyond

Marfa, Tx + Diamond Lake, OR


above photo: Nele Watty 
 
The value of experiences over things has become increasingly clear to me over the years. For my birthday this year I chose to go on a grand adventure in pursuit of the Milky Way, among other things. In my mind I imagined a tale of grandeur, of worshipful awe, magic, and obviously a deep connection with the planet (or space - I was open to all deep connections). 
 
And so the adventure began - a simple 8 hour drive across Texas in the dead heat of summer to Big Bend National Park, one of the 7 best places in the world to see the stars. The landscape of Big Bend is exquisite with the plateaus echoing a continual sunset. Stunning. I was optimistic beyond reason. Everything was going great, that is, until it came time to exit the vehicle. Some of you *may* have gathered that me on a camping trip could be likened to...say...a cat in a swimming pool. It doesn't happen (at least not on purpose). 
 
But life is meant to be lived! We collected our things: camera, tripod, chairs to sit in, flashlight, bug spray, all the essentials. That first minute under the stars was divine. The sheer magnitude of the number of stars was overwhelming. But also, kind of, so was the number of mosquitoes. We found out very quickly that if you use the flashlight to look at the camera dials, this will attract mosquitoes. In turn, the mosquitoes will attract bats. So now instead of looking at the stars you're dodging bats (or looking around wildly from the trauma of almost getting hit by a bat). Also, in the distance there's a flashlight moving your direction which obviously is probably a serial killer so maybe we should just look at the stars tomorrow night. And all this serial-killer-watching, bat-dodging combined with the balmy low-90 degree evening temperatures result in a pretty sweaty situation. As a sidenote, chairs really are a waste of time if you want to look at the stars. You are just asking for a neck injury. Bring a towel and lay on the ground - it's better. But don't lay on the ground in the middle of the road if you are the sort of anxious type that gets nervous about cars in the road. I actually happen to be that exact type, so pretty much nature won the night and I retreated to bed with a sore neck, disappointed, itchy, and disheartened by the rather lackluster experience. 
 
Cue Marfa. In a pinch, just ask yourself "where do the hipsters go to take all of their Instagram photos?" Then go to that place and see what magic awaits you. El Cosmico in Marfa did not disappoint. Neither did Cochinel and a little dish called chilequiles. I digress. El Cosmico is practically perfect in every way. Seated at 4600 feet above sea level, temperatures in Marfa get much cooler at night and there are really no bats to speak of. However, there are an unusual number of rabbits hopping around. This phenomenon was never explained to me but seemed to suit the location and its psychedelic undertones.  
 
At the entrance to El Cosmico there is a big glowing red and yellow arrow so you don't miss it when you're coming down the highway. Incidentally, it also blinds you if you are about to walk into a very dark campsite. Thus began the story of "KK takes a tumble". Arms full of bags, headed to the faint outline where the parking lot channels into the campsite I slam my toe into a giant log ??? laying in the middle of the parking lot. Thankfully, my right arm was totally full of things, so my left arm did its best to brace for impact and in an unexpected twist, *a second log* was where my hand hit and resulted in the kind of fall that just never ends. A full twisting roll down this apparent parking lot log chute fabulously bruised my body toes to elbows and I was in full tears on the rocky gravel starring at a blurry outline of the heavens. After collecting my things and the kind of pain-mad that is almost miraculous to not go blind from, I fell down on the bed and wept in the trailer.  
 
How unexpected that one well-timed injury has the power to unlock a box of anger and disappointment you didn't even know you were secretly keeping. To know you are not good at something, but try anyway, only to have it go much worse than you expected, feel like you ruined someone else's experience, and in general see the whole thing as so obviously foolish to waste time and money on when everyone told you this would not go well for you, has the potential to be utterly crushing. I let myself cry and feel all the feels. Blame everyone for my terrific fall. Shout at "stupid logs that belong in a campfire and I'll make sure every log I find ends up there along with its family." No one throws a better pity birthday party than me, so I found. After about 20 minutes of this nonsense, I decided that I had a choice. A choice to be easily defeated and give up on something I had dreamed of due to a lack of comfort or physical pain and circumstance -OR- I could fight for it. This was not a Kerri Strug Olympic-Medal moment, it was just looking at the stars, this was not lost on me. But it was a character moment. Somehow this series of events was asking me the question loud and clear - will you fight for the things you care about? The things you have invested in? Will you overcome? So with my blanket, pillow, tissues, bag of ice, and 4 Advil I gently laid my broken person on the ground beneath the heavens. I took no photos but left that to the *saint* who agreed to go on this journey with me, Nele Watty, and simply tried to let the majesty before me soften my hardened heart.  
 
The rest of July passed full of more fun and old friends than I could have anticipated. A month of travel ended ironically - camping - with two college friends in Oregon. Well, well, well arch nemesis, we met again. What woeful fate awaited me this time I wondered? Incidentally, I flourished, being awarded the "best fire builder" title as well as "not as difficult as we imagined." By some gift of the heavens, the night we camped was cold and cloudless with but a fingernail moon lingering somewhere in the east. Our campsite was right on diamond lake and to my delight, a perfect location to see the Milky Way. I was undone. In all my efforts I had tried so deeply to absorb this incredible cosmos and let it enfold me in wonder. Yet I felt it had been stolen from me. And here, so unexpectedly the experience was given back to me. I sat as long as I could on the rocks at the shore of the lake, watching shooting stars with the sound of the lake at my feet.  
 
My experience with the Milky Way was not that of connecting with the earth or space. I was reminded that there are more roads leading to the destination you long for than perhaps we have eyes to see. And as Paolo Coelho writes in The Alchemist, "when you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it."

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