red rock canyon & some ponderings   24 comments

Joshua tree in front of red cliffs along the Hagen Trail at Red Rock Canyon State Park

After my last post on the end of amnesia, dated January 31st, one might well be wondering if I’d regained my memory only to forget that I still have a blog. Over the past four weeks, I’ve thought about the blog and have tried to round up photos and write something, but with little success. Maybe we can blame this on me being preoccupied with matters to do with the future. After all, in about four more weeks, it will be time to pack up for the long trip back to eastern Canada. My only as-yet-vague plan is to return to southeast Arizona next winter after a season spent doing something up north. Just what that might be remains a little up in the air, but perhaps things are finally coming together (more on this below).

At times, I get annoyed at myself for not being able to figure out how (and sometimes even why) to carry on without Don. But then I recall that it’s not really my fault for not having the foresight to guess that, at this particular point in my life, instead of putting our retirement game plan into effect, I’d be pondering what to do now that everything has been vaporized by the events of the past couple of years. In retrospect, I probably did well just to get the farm sold, our belongings moved into storage, and get the dogs and me down here last autumn. However, now it’s time to start figuring out the what-comes-next part — which isn’t nearly as easy as some might suppose.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s difficult to work up much of an interest in a future without Don. Our plan had been that he would retire (at what would have been about a year ago), get the farm ready to sell and put it on the market, and then look for a place a little off the beaten track in some part of Nova Scotia. When Sabrina and I arrived home last spring, I decided to proceed with that plan and worked hard to get the farm sold, dispose of or move belongings into a storage locker, then look for a place in Nova Scotia. The first couple of gargantuan steps were accomplished by autumn. However, by the time the deal was closed and the last of our stuff jammed into the locker, I was feeling very weary and unsure of the moving-to-Nova-Scotia part of the plan. Did I really want to move there alone? Would it feel weird to go there without Don?

Last summer, during spare moments when I wasn’t busting my can to get the house ready to sell, I pondered over my motives for moving. Was some part of my subconscious hoping to find the right place in the hope that Don would reappear — a sort of Field of Dreams if-you-build-it-he-will-come cargo cult strategy? It didn’t take long to realize that this was definitely behind last summer’s frantic scramble to sell the farm and race to Nova Scotia to look at property. Scary how the mind works, isn’t it? However, as luck would have it, there were plenty of glitches in the house-selling process, so things didn’t proceed at quite the anticipated pace. I could not really leave to go looking for a new place until September. By then, I had lost much of my momentum. It would soon be time to muster the last of my remaining energy and hit the road for Arizona. Fortunately, I did not move us to Nova Scotia for the wrong reason last autumn. Instead, I wrapped things up in eastern Ontario and we headed west – Sabrina, me, and our new addition, Sage.

Red Rock Canyon State Park campground – note the uniform pitch of the layers of tilted rock in these formations

Fast forward to this February. The time to depart from Arizona draws nigh. Once more, I ponder our future. What are the dogs and I to do once we cross back into Canada? Should we spend spring-through-autumn tripping around camping? Is it too soon to look for a place and try to settle down for awhile?

After much contemplation, I’ve arrived at something of a decision. We need some kind of base camp back in Canada. A place where we can relax and feel “this is home” for at least a part of the year. Somewhere to put in a vegetable garden and work on projects. A landing spot where we can crash when needed, and stash a few cherished belongings — the stuff now buried in a storage locker in eastern Ontario. A location out of which I may be able to pick up where I left off with my mothballed photography and writing business. I’ve had a couple of wonderful and generous offers to keep a trailer or build a little shed on friends’ farms. As well, there’s an invite to accompany good friends as they conduct their 30 Years Later natural history survey this year – and I may well join them for part of the season. However, my most pressing goal is to search for a place that suits our purpose (the dogs and me).

Although I have tried to keep a very open mind to place, my instincts tell me to go east – east to Nova Scotia. Perhaps that will be a mistake. Perhaps my subconscious is still struggling to weave its own peculiar design. But maybe its rationale is as good as any. The simple truth is that I don’t know what’s right or best, and there’s no living person who knows anything more than me. However, that’s okay as I’m really not much concerned. At this point, I don’t worry much about the future. After all that has happened over the past few years, I’ve learned that there is nothing magical about the future. It’s a fleeting, undependable and untrustworthy thing that I don’t really believe in anymore. Now, about the only thing I trust is that my instincts are making the best choices for the three of us at any rapidly approaching point in time. Experience has proven that’s all I can depend on — and so it is that I’m in the process of looking for a place in Nova Scotia — a new home base to set a course for on our eastward journey. Enquiries about several properties have been made – mainly tracts of land near the ocean with project houses in various states of preservation (or lack of). Finding a place will not be difficult. I’m not looking for perfection. All we need is a haven where we will hang our hats for awhile until the next course change. After all, life is a lot like sailing – tacking one line, then quickly coming about onto a new heading as the shifting winds of time play their tricks. I’ll post updates on the search for a new place as they occur.

our campsite in front of the cliffs at Red Rock Canyon

Now, about the photos in this post. In November, I stayed at Red Rock Canyon State Park on two occasions. The first time, I visited with a photographer friend. The second time, I stopped to rest for a few days after making a long loop back up through California, to the Oregon Coast, and then back south on my way to Arizona. I’ll get to the why behind that part of the trip in an upcoming post. For now, I just wanted to write a little about Red Rock. The first stay was one of those happy accidents that sometimes occurs when you’re trying to pick your next campground based on its name or a brief description. My road atlas described Red Rock Canyon S.P. as a park with interesting red rock formations. We pulled into the campground in late afternoon only to find that the formations far exceeded interesting.

Red Cliffs formation at Red Rock Canyon State Park

By another bit of serendipity, we arrived at the beginning of an annual fossil collecting field trip which is held by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The leader was Dr. David Whistler, a vertebrate paleontologist who has been studying and working at Red Rock Canyon for fifty years. A group from the NHMLA was camped just down from our site. During the daytime, they went out on collecting and study forays. On the Saturday evening, we attended the slide presentation given by Dr. Whistler, at the park’s visitor center. The diversity of creatures found in this region is astounding. To quote from an article written by Dr. Whistler for Terra Magazine (Fall 1982), this is a list of what had been found there by that time. Since then, the list has grown considerably.

Water-loving animals including frogs, toads, three kinds of salamanders, a pond turtle, an extinct goose, an otter and a small species of beaver…. long-legged running animals like two different rhinos, ten species of horse, four kinds of camels and three prong buck antelope species suggest open plains. Two elephant-like gomphotheres, a vulture, two large land tortoises, a pika, two ground squirrel species, and deer mice and rabbits also frequented this habitat. Brush-loving animals are represented by two oreodonts (extinct sheep-like animals), a peccary, a three-toed browsing horse, a short-legged camel, a ringtailed cat, a small skunk, two weasel-like animals, a wolverine, two foxes, four distinctly different spiny lizards, a night lizard, rosey boa and racer snakes, a hedgehog, a chipmunk, two gopher-like rodents, two different pocket mice, a bat, and at least three small perching birds. A mole, four different shrews, a small, rear- fanged snake and two alligator lizards …. Six different species of dog, a very large bear-like animal and three large cats including a sabretooth….

This region is unique for its many clearly defined layers of strata in which fossils were deposited as if within a meticulously ordered time vault. Fossils found at this site have been used to create a sort of timeline against which similar fossils from other regions may be compared and correlated. It’s fascinating stuff. You don’t have to be a paleontologist to appreciate the significance of this geology, with its many examples of stratified columns and uniformly tilted formations. One can easily see that they’re walking about in what may best be described as an immense laboratory. But Red Rock is not entirely about the past. It’s also a living landscape of plants and creatures. At night, the profiles and shadows of the park’s many Joshua Trees move like wild dancers against the flickering light of campfires. By day, curious Cactus Wrens perch on vehicle roof racks as they survey your campsite, while Ravens swoop, soar, and occasionally descend from the towering backdrop of sandstone cliffs. In the evening, the shrill chittering of Chimney Swifts echoes from the canyon walls as they circle and dive, entering and leaving rock cavities in the upper rim.

Sage watching while I cook our dinner

On my second visit, I spent several nights almost alone in the canyon. I’d cook our dinner, then we would sit or lie about, watching the sky show. By luck, we were passing through this area at the same time as the peak of the Leonids. The dogs and I stayed long enough to rest and continue our exploration of the area until one morning when the campground began to fill up in advance of the weekend. I decided to break camp and within the hour, we were packed up and on the road, making our way onward to southeast Arizona.

Sabrina and Sage catching up on some sleep inside our van

Written by bev on February 27th, 2010