hidden landscapes   10 comments

This morning as I write this post, I’m feeling very aware of how fragmented my life has become. I’m still writing about last autumn’s travels through Utah (soon to be finished up), and about the last couple of things that happened before I left Bisbee to head back to Canada. Add to that the past couple of weeks of traveling eastward across the U.S., and now my preparations and plans for this summer’s work program at the old house in Nova Scotia. On top of all of that, I’m wanting to write something about how it feels to be back here in the area where Don and I lived for over thirty years until his death in September 2008. While the first few topics may be of interest to many, I suspect that the last is of interest mainly to me, but I do wish to record at least something here – to look back upon someday, I suppose. Eventually, I will get to all of the above – I just have to post a little more often. But let me just take a moment to write something about being back here in Ontario.

It’s weird. Very, very weird. This is my third return from traveling across North America. This year’s trip was over new terrain as I cut a diagonal across the U.S. to get back to Ontario, instead of doing my usual route up through the western states, and then eastward across Canada. I’m realizing that there’s something very different about these routes – something that goes beyond the obvious geographic path and distance. It has more to do with how I feel while traveling. The longer route seems to give me a chance to make the transition between being “out west” and “back here in the east.” By taking the diagonal, I feel very differently – almost as though something messy has happened – rather like spilling ink across a page. Also, I’ve realized that I seem to need time to prepare for my confrontation with this place.

The final day on the road, I crossed into Ontario and drove straight through the area where we had our farm, our friends had farms scattered between Ottawa and Kingston, and where we hiked and canoed during every spare moment of our lives. I found myself having to toss up my mental force field to fend off the pain and sadness which I experience while in this region. It’s a familiar feeling. I used to use this form of self defense when I took Don (and before that – my father) to the hospital for chemo and radiation treatments and other appointments. I called it being in my Terminator mode. Of course, I don’t mean that in the literal sense – my role was always that of protector and not destroyer – but during our countless hospital forays, I had to throw up an impenetrable exterior to make it possible to continue functioning at high efficiency while deflecting bombs and missiles. These days, while in other places, I can pretty much drop my bulletproof shields, but when I am back here in our old stomping grounds, the shields must remain up in place at all times. It’s really no way to live.

On Tuesday, I took Sage for a hike on one of our favourite trails – one that Don and I walked several times a month in those Elysian days before cancer struck. Soon after setting out, I realized that I felt like crap – as though I was wearing cement shoes and that the landscape had nothing to say to me. When part way along the trail, I discovered that it was now impassable due to the footbridge having been washed away during a storm. I took that as a sign to abandon this mission and return home, but not without stopping at our favourite whole food store. That was yet another mistake. It looks pretty much exactly the same as the last time I was there – with Don – to pick up some lunch at the deli. He was doing a lot of chemo at that point. After we left the store to go for a walk on the above-mentioned trail, he found he couldn’t eat anything because the smell of the food made him ill. All of this came back to me like flashbacks in the trailer of some demented movie. I ended the day feeling morose and more than ready to head east to work on the old house at Round Hill. Of course that’s not very practical, as the weather is as cool and rainy there as it has been here in Ontario. However, as soon as things warm up and the sun begins to shine, I will be ready.

That’s about all that I’ll say about how things are with me at this time. I’m doing alright. I live with a good deal of what probably qualifies as PTSD, but manage to carry on. I’ve found ways that make it possible to function and live, but they don’t include hanging around the scene of the crime, so to speak. Gotta move on and make life happen where it can.

Anyhow, turning to the photos that I’ve put up, these were taken last November, shortly before leaving Utah to visit Chaco Canyon, in New Mexico. From there, I traveled on down to Bisbee. All of these were taken at Butler Wash, which is along Hwy 95 between the town of Blanding and Natural Bridges National Monument. My next post will be about an afternoon spent there.

First, what I’d like to say about this area, is that I’ve wanted to travel through ever since the day that I set eyes on it from a vantage point east of Escalante. If you check out this map, you’ll see a spot marked “The Million Dollar Road”. That’s just about where I stood, looking east, while taking this photo. At that moment, I said to myself, “Someday, I’m going to go there and see what it’s like to wander over that region of Navajo sandstone.” Well, on this trip, I finally did so – or at least, I got a taste of it. I will return to spend more time there – maybe a few weeks – hopefully this coming autumn.

So, about these photos. You may or may not have discovered this already, but the first and second photos are of the same spot. The first photo is looking into a canyon with my camera not zoomed in. That is how the canyon would look to the naked eye. The second is a zoomed in shot of one of the arches in the rock formations, revealing the ruins of a cliff dwelling (this is one time when it is worth clicking on all of the photos to see larger views of each). The third and fourth photos are a similar pair of a cliff as it appears to the naked eye, and then zoomed in. If you study the third photo, you’ll see that there are cliff dwellings in other arches, similar to the one in the fourth photo. Now, go back and think about this photo. What must it be like to hike through any of the canyons in this vast expanse between Escalante and Blanding? I scratched the surface on this day’s travels, but wish to return to spend more time – much more time – exploring the area.

On this day, I left Sabrina in the van – all the windows open, blinds down, and a good breeze blowing through. Sage and I walked to Butler Wash – a short hike of maybe 15 to 20 minutes – over and through the undulating yellow sandstone dunes. The trail is marked with rocks or small cairns. Although there is no danger of losing one’s way, I quickly intuited that this is a region where one could easily become disoriented as you can rarely move from one spot to the next in a direct line. Always, you are walking a curving path around one rock dome then around the next. There are few distinctive points visible, and an eerie sameness that I have not often experienced in the natural world. In other places, there is always this or that kind of tree with a certain shaped trunk or branch, or a boulder that looks like a dinosaur head, or even something so small as a cluster of ferns on a seep between rocks. Not here. Although I looked for natural guideposts, I found that there were very few that spoke to me. In spite of having a very good sense of direction, I know I would have cause to make good use of a compass and GPS while hiking through this country.

As well, this is a very arid place. There are few sources of water in this landscape. In summer, the heat can be extreme. Even on this mid-November day, I found it warm. The dogs drank a lot of water throughout the day – always as good an indicator as any, that the humidity levels are very low. One must be properly prepared to venture into such a landscape, especially alone as I always am these days. However, although alone, I will return.

Written by bev wigney on April 15th, 2011

10 Responses to 'hidden landscapes'

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  1. As always, your writing is a pleasure to read. The loss part is as important to the whole as the healing part, I think. It’s all the yin and yang of life which some experience at more intense levels than others. I liked the photos of Butler Wash. Although I haven’t been there, I’d like to go and have seen many places like it through the Southwest. It feels good to be such places.


    15 Apr 11 at 9:44 am

  2. You’ve given me much to think about with this post. It is good that you have awareness and know what to do to take care of yourself. I see you focusing on that which sustains you.

    These days in April were the last few days of Richard’s life. He died on April 20, 2008. What I am realizing is that I am feeling now what I couldn’t feel in 2008 because I was in shock. This year I am experiencing painful flashbacks, as you have described. Last year at this time I was caught up in the challenges of a new job, but this year I am just feeling very very tired. The first anniversary of Richard’s death is a blank to me at this moment. I relate to the feeling of being fragmented and also to the sense of going forward with intention.

    One thing I know is that I need to spend more time out walking during this time when traveling is not an option for me. This week I obtained a note from my nurse practitioner stating to my employer than I cannot work for more than 32 hours per week for health reasons. My energy has been so low that I have barely been able to respond to comments on my blog, much less walk. Reading my favorite blogs, though, continues to enrich my days.

    It won’t be long before the weather changes and you and Sabrina and Sage can head out for Nova Scotia. We had a surprising light snowfall yesterday morning, but it’s getting very green here.

    Kind wishes always,


    15 Apr 11 at 10:16 am

  3. My heart aches when I think about the sadness and pain of your deep grief . I hope the remainder of your journey will be safe and soon so that you can begin your summer life.


    15 Apr 11 at 2:02 pm

  4. it’s of interest to me.


    15 Apr 11 at 2:22 pm

  5. Rain – Yes, the loss part of the story is important as it is an inevitable and integral part of life. Butler Wash is a very neat place. If you get down to that area, be sure to visit. There are other ruin sites along that same highway.

    am – With the passing of each year, I find that my experience of loss and grief are changing. Also, I find that I am changing too. In some ways I am stronger, but in other ways, more tired and sometimes even fed up with the whole thing. However, I try not to think of anything as being permanent – all things change – sometimes for the good and sometimes not. Maybe that should scare me at least a little, but I find myself not being too concerned or caring. Now, my life is sort of burnt away down to the bone. I don’t know if that makes much sense, but it’s how it feels. I hope you are able to negotiate better work hours. I agree. More time for walking would be a good thing and might restore more balance to your life. Take care, bev.

    Sky – I am looking forward to working on the house in Nova Scotia. I have already ordered some perennials for the garden, so I have some enjoyable work already planned! It will be nice to see how all of last year’s plantings are doing. It is those little things that help to keep me interested.

    megan – Yes, I thought it would be.

    bev wigney

    15 Apr 11 at 8:58 pm

  6. Hi Bev

    As always your photos of the cliff dwellings and the American SW are stunning.
    I love to see them from your perspective and as always your “assistants” are a real joy to see.

    I want to wish you all the best this summer.



    17 Apr 11 at 7:43 pm

  7. Ahh, those dogs.

    I’ve been to Natural Bridges. It’s an interesting, other-worldly place.

    I look forward to reading about your summer back East.


    18 Apr 11 at 1:54 am

  8. I always appreciate when your share what you are experiencing, particularly when you explore the sad journey of your heart. The landscapes are always an external backdrop to your inner life, a vista so large it cannot be contained. Sometimes we have to zoom in as close as the lens will let us, and say hello to the familiar pain.

    robin andrea

    18 Apr 11 at 9:57 am

  9. Bev. Having been fighting my own dark winter places, I’ve missed your last posts. And I have nothing like your loss of Don and that dark void that invites you to come in and grieve and go a little mad.

    I am amazed at how we are able to suffer. And equally amazed at the courage and determination that some of us manage to maintain in the face of the gale.

    I’ve probably stated all this before in your comment section, but your openness, your honesty, creates in me a desire to say the truth.

    Life is tough and beautiful. The truth is that often the tough part dominates. We try to reflect on the good memories to keep us moving forward.

    Your recounting of your stalwart efforts with your father and Don resonate with me. There are no short-cuts to recovering from these ordeals of the mind and heart . . . only time and more time.

    The pups make me smile. As I age, I’m losing the ability to make great distinctions between the ‘is-ness’ of certain animals and humans. Our animal companions display more sense, kindness and nobility than many of the more-evolved representatives of the human species.

    My point being: I’m so glad you and pups are together.

    I’ve rattled on and taken more than my share of comment space :0)

    I can’t allow myself to even imagine that your diagonal path took you through the Toledo area. If ever you are drifting in my neck of the woods . . well, it would be so good to see you again.

    Take care.


    25 Apr 11 at 9:12 am

  10. Guy – My assistants make my travels so much nicer. I sometimes wonder how I could manage without them.

    Mark – Those dogs. Aren’t they such great companions? Won’t be long and I’ll be back east working on the house. Another week and I should be there.

    robin – You are right about about the inner landscape. It exists in parallel with all of the external landscapes through which I pass.
    Cathy – There are no short-cuts to recovering from these ordeals of the mind and heart . . . only time and more time. — Yes, this is just how it is. Some people say that you heal with time, but many people who have made this journey say instead, that it is not that it hurts less with time, but that we learn to endure the pain more easily. That is how it seems to me.
    Agree with you about our pets. My dogs are so in tune with me and seem to know how to respond – when to be joyful and when to be quiet. I did cut through Ohio and even checked my map to see how much of a side trip it would be to drive to Toledo, but in the end, I decided that I was getting too weary of being on the road and just wanted to get home, so on I drove. I was home by the next evening, which was good. However, now I have a general feel for driving that route, so I may try it again on a future crossing.

    bev wigney

    28 Apr 11 at 9:34 am

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