Discovering Moon House: Dag and Zook and The Fear of Falling

Thanksgiving Day 2018 was a memorable one. We spent the week in Blanding, UT. Unlike Moab to the north with its trendy, sporty persona, which I don’t much love, Blanding is unvarnished and unpretentious. I would rather feel like traveler as opposed to a tourist, if you get my meaning. In mock appreciation to the sporty set we took up the names Zook (short for Gadzooks) and Dag (short for Dag Nab It). We spent three full days in the area, hiking to House on Fire ruins, traveling Monument Valley, and taking the La Sal Mountain Loop over to Arches NP. It was all quite lovely. Those who know me well know that the desert, especially red canyon country, is the landscape that resonates most deeply with my soul.

I love the grim gaunt edges of the rocks, the great bare backbone of the Earth, rough brows and heaved up shoulders, round ribs and knees of the world’s skeleton protruded in lonely places.
Maynard Dixon

On Thanksgiving morning we decided to trek out to Moon House, a beautiful and well preserved ruin in Bears Ears National Monument. The guidebook advised us to budget 2 to 3 hours and to be ready for some “moderate scrambling”. Best laid plans of mice and men… We took Totoro, our Honda Pilot, 8.2 miles down Snow Flat Road. He did well–very sure-footed on the gravel–but it was a test of Dag’s skills and Totoro’s design, especially when parts of the road were along slickrock shelves. The second half of the drive we took very slowly, almost turning around at a particularly nasty rock that threatened our center of gravity. We managed to ease around to one side and get over it. Finally we made it to the trailhead, where the guide book told us to park and walk up the remaining couple of miles to McLloyd Canyon. Looking at this section of road, sandy and washed out in places, we decided that was a smart decision.

When we reached the rim we did not immediately locate the ruin, which is to the left part way down the canyon wall. There was a better vantage point along the rim to our left, but we didn’t confirm that until we were past the point of visiting that spot. Reaching Moon House is a dramatic descent down one side of the canyon and up the other. It’s an extremely picturesque place and the ruins are plentiful and attractive. About that moderate scrambling…

On the way down there is a rippled slickrock shelf that leans into the canyon and drops off. My husband and I are little people… Dag is 5’7 and I’m right at 5′. If we were a little taller, this might not have been as much of an issue. There are two possibilities. It looks as if someone has piled up some rocks under the lip of this shelf, but that means going straight out over the edge and you’ve really got to trust that the pile of rocks is there for your benefit. Option 2 is to walk to the right along the slickrock, which is steeper on this side, until you come to a small tree that you can grasp and lower yourself onto the trail below. At this point we were the only people on the trail (there would be two more parties behind us, comprised of taller folks) and we spent some time negotiating this perilous spot. I don’t think that a fall here, or more of a roll actually, would kill you, but you’d probably break something and getting help out here in the middle of nowhere is EXPENSIVE. Dag opts for the tree. After some moments of sheer terror, I follow, my running shoes slipping down off the slickrock as I manage to scoot across. I discarded my hiking boots two days earlier after they ate holes in the back of my heels. The tree takes a nice gash out of my jacket as I drop on to the trail. My legs are jelly. We spend a few minutes trying to ascertain whether or not the trail is going to get worse or not, but decide not to turn around after all that struggle. Moon House is closer now, and absolutely gorgeous.

The  rest of the way down is rocky and a bit steep but far from scary. There is a lovely wide place to cross to the other side of the canyon, passing by a large boulder. It is a great place to catch your breath before the last moderately difficult task of pulling yourself up to the next ledge. The route goes between two rocky protrusions that keep you from feeling as if you are going to go tumbling.  Once you traverse that, you find yourself on the Moon House patio. The ruins are right in front of you.

The BLM allows visitors to enter the outer wall, although we did not feel right doing so. As we came up the ruin side there was a gnarled tree. Usually if anybody sees or feels something weird, it’s me, but in this case Dag swore that he saw, out of the corner of his eye, a Native American man sitting on it. He seemed a friendly presence, but he commanded some respect as well. Moon House was visited by looters many times before it was set up as a park site. There was a smuggling ring in Blanding that was broken up a few years ago, resulting in some suicides in the community. Several of the items recovered came from Moon House. It didn’t feel good to identify in any way with that kind of activity.  Instead I thought about my mother, who is very unwell and dealing with end of life issues. I said a little prayer asking for help as we walked the canyon. There was much to be seen, and we certainly missed some things along the way. I feel it is important not to be greedy in the wilderness, be it for loot or experience. Greediness gets you into trouble–gets you over-extended and over-burdened. Perhaps it is not so different in everyday life.

Saying goodbye to the friendly canyon spirits, we hauled ourselves out of the canyon and headed for the car. We arrived at 11am and it was now nearing 3:30. We were several hours overtime and the weather forecast had indicated a 20 percent chance of snow in the late afternoon. As we walked the two miles back to the car, the snow arrived, a gentle dusting. As we took Totoro back over Snow Flat Road, it started to snow in earnest. We managed the 8.2 miles of gravel without incident and were very glad to reach pavement. We jokingly cried out “Tarmac!” in homage to Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman in Long Way Round and headed back to Blanding for our Thanksgiving feast of prime rib, mashed potatoes and megasalad, topped off with pumpkin pie with whipped cream (the real thing, baby!) There’s nothing quite so satisfying as the meal that follows the accomplishment of a quest.

What did all that scrambling tell me, other than I should keep myself in better shape? That I need to let myself risk falling and failing. I’ve always fit Synkroniciti into my other schedules, letting them set her pacing. Part of this is the result of putting my life back together three times, part of it is a legitimate fear that Synkroniciti will fail, or, perhaps more frightening, that she will succeed and draw me into a new place. One does not simply jump off the side of a cliff, neither will I quit everything else I am doing to follow Synkroniciti into thin air. But it is now time to edge my way toward new sights, to  puzzle out the landscape before me and, if needed, create new trail.

Nothing is achieved alone. Would you like to join me on my journey for a while? We all have different goals and different challenges such that we can never truly comprehend each other’s journeys, but we can certainly lend a hand when we cross paths and root for each other from our separate vantage points. Let’s get out there and find what 2019 has to offer. And if you slip along the way, take comfort in knowing you aren’t the only one out there.

Waving at you from the trail!

Zook

 

 

Quote for Today: Martin Luther King, Jr

512px-Sibiu_street-sweeper
If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”
Martin Luther King, Jr, “What is Your Life’s Blueprint?”

Image © Joe Mabel with CCLicense

On Unlocking Creativity, Ideas as Viruses: Robin Young Interviews Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert

The way that I’ve always thought about creativity is that ideas are these disembodied life forms, they don’t have a form but they have a will, and all they want is to be made manifest and they circle the world looking for human collaborators to work with.

I’m feeling poorly today due to Celiac Disease and my brain fog is keeping me from stringing ideas together. Instead, I’d like to share this interview by Robin Young with Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity, inspiration and a kiss shared with Ann Patchett. It’s magical! Click the link below and look for the audio file at the top of the article.

On Unlocking Creativity, Ideas as Viruses

We live in a society that fetishizes passion, that talks a lot about vocation. These are very intimidating ideas that, I think, leave people out and I think if you can just sort of forget about passion and forget about vocation and focus on the tiny friendly impulse of curiosity which is within all of us, that is the way.

Quote for Today: Anaïs Nin

You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you’re not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I mean Gauguin decided at a certain point he wasn’t a banker anymore; he was a painter. And so he walked away from banking. I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.

Anaïs Nin

Transformative Life: The Power of Imagination in Dhafer Youssef’s Whirling Birds Ceremony

The modern world presents opportunities to encounter and assimilate different cultures. Can this expansion of experience expand purpose and faith?

A Muezzin Calling from the Top of a Minaret the Faithful to Prayer, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1879

A Muezzin Calling from the Top of a Minaret the Faithful to Prayer, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1879

Musician Dhafer Youssef was born in the small fishing village of Teboulba, Tunisia, from a long line of muslim muezzins. It is the job of the muezzin to sing the adhan, or call to prayer, from the mosque whenever it is time for prayer. The community depends on the muezzin to keep accurate schedules that organize their day and help them practice faithfulness. Blessed with a powerful and expressive voice, Dhafer was sure to inherit both the beauty and the responsibility of the muezzin’s vocation. Life had other plans.

His grandfather introduced him to Quranic recitation, chanting of verses from Islam’s Holy Book, and he was schooled in the practice. Away from the discipline of school and grandfather, the six year old Dhafer sang along with the radio in his mother’s kitchen, experimenting with his voice in a different way. Although he still remembers his first chanting of the adhan with fondness, his talent and his interests would not be fulfilled as a muezzin. He attended a conservatory in Tunis briefly before leaving to study music in Vienna. In addition to singing, Dhafer plays the oud, a middle eastern lute and predecessor to the guitar, and composes music, both acoustic and electronic. He has released eight albums and performed all over the world.

Some traditionalists might say that he betrayed his ancestors by rejecting the role of muezzin, but that isn’t the only way to look at it. Yes, his music incorporates influences from Indian ragas, Norwegian music and jazz and is marketed to non-muslims. Despite this, a look at his subject matter and output, with titles such as Birds Requiem, Electric Sufi, Digital Prophecy and Divine Shadows, reveals that, far from abandoning his spirituality, Youssef has used his wanderings to deepen and expand his faith and share it with others, including those from different traditions. Delving deep into Sufi thought, with its desire to experience God intimately and directly, his vocation has become to call not only muslims to prayer and reflection, but all kinds of people.

Video via Dhafer Youssef on YouTube, please check out his wonderful website here.

This video from the album Birds Requiem is called Whirling Birds Ceremony. The title recalls the whirling dervishes, Sufi ascetics who practice a whirling dance in attempt to bring themselves closer to God. The atmospheric and ethereal music, which features Youssef on oud and vocals, Hüsnü Senlendirici on clarinet, Eivind Aarset on electric guitar and electronics, Kristjan Randalu on piano and Phil Donkin on double bass, is enhanced by splendid images from Maksoun Studio. We see and hear an inner world of fantastic and lovely transformations, much in contrast to the dark outer world revealed at the end of the video.  This inner world is constantly changing and moving, ranging through outer space, while the outer world is the human city with its fixed constructions and geography. Devotion and prostration lead to freedom and depth of motion as the soul whirls into the sky when the body bends low. Whirling Birds Ceremony reminds us that those who wish to contain and define other human beings can never contain and define our minds and spirits. More than that, it calls us to dream and let our inner being dance.

What a lovely and enduring vision!