Summers have always been my ‘mommy’ time. I’ve never taught summer school; I’ve always looked at my time away from the classroom as time to focus on my kids, primarily, and also to catch up on all the other life stuff I push off between August to June. These 8 weeks of no students are both well earned and deeply cherished. Summer, in truth, is my time to look at life as it is.
This summer is a bit different. For months, I’ve dreaded summer just because of what I knew it would hold: a house without any hope of my daughter moving back home. People always said this would happen, that college kids come home the first summer, and that usually is their last.
I’ve simultaneously been hoping that wouldn’t be the case while praying that my girl would be so content where she’s living that she wouldn’t need to come home. Selfish versus selfless, I guess.
Turns out, this isn’t the selfish summer. It’s the summer to look at life as it is, rather than how I might want it to be.
So I headed out on a road trip. If she’s not coming to me, I’m coming to her. I’ve got a few weeks off, and armed with some of my favorite podcasts and this fabulous book on CD, I headed over the mountains, through the Nevada desert and past the Salt Flats to Utah, my girl’s new home.
The first night I headed to her workplace to relax and have a salad on the patio until she got off – 650 miles is a long drive! My heart nearly burst when I saw her there, surrounded by people who have grown to love her. She’s in a good place.
She was able to piece together two full days off from both jobs, so we headed to the desert: Capitol Reef National Park, to be exact.
The southern Utah desert is not like what most think of as desert; majestic outcroppings of red rock suddenly appear after hours of driving through rolling hills. I couldn’t stop thinking about how in the world this could ever be real. Despite timing our trip during a heat wave (can you feel the 100+ degree heat radiating off those rocks? I certainly could), we doused ourselves with sunscreen, braided our hair and popped on a cap and headed out on our first hike. It was then that I discovered that as much as I’d like to believe my 50-year-old body could keep up with my girl, I had to look at life as it is, and tap out. I opted for a patch of shade and this great book while she bounded up and back without me.
Luckily, we found a flat, shady trail along the river where we could see petroglyphs from the Fremont Indian Culture. Who would imagine that thousands of years later, a worn out teacher mom would be staring in awe at the stories inscribed on these red rock walls.
Lesson learned, we slowed it down. Capitol Reef National Park contains nearly a quarter million acres of diverse rock formations, desert plants and animals, and hidden stories of the people who have come and gone through this awe-inspiring canyon. If you look closely, you can see the layers of different rock in the background, each holding moments of time over the last 50-70 million years.
Because the park was surprisingly empty, we resorted to a few selfies.
Capitol Reef was created by the Waterpocket Fold – an 87 mile long ‘wrinkle” created millions of years ago, and created stunning cliffs, domes, natural arches and canyons like this one. We were happy to take the bumpy, but air conditioned drive into the Capitol Gorge. Surrounded by Wingate Sandstone, the towering cliffs reminded me of how small and insignificant we really are.
I can hardly comprehend what prehistoric humans must have thought when they gazed upon these formations, let alone the pioneers who decided this would be a good place to settle.
When we got to the end of the dirt road, we jumped out and began to trek through the canyon. Along the way we spotted more petroglyphs as well as the “Pioneer Register”, where Mormons from the 1800s inscribed their name in the soft walls after clearing this first road through the Gorge.
One nice aspect of having an adult child is really being able to enjoy traveling together. Gone are the days of packing diaper bags, snacks and sippy cups, or finding a motel that had a slide into the swimming pool. As often as I really do miss those days, I’m learning to embrace life as it is, not how it used to be. Together, we reveled in our room with a view, watching the sunset together. The cows were an added touch.
With every vista we uncovered, I stopped and listened. The occasional flapping of wings, the rushing melody of the Fremont River, and the wind caressing the boughs of the Pinon trees reminded me of how, even though we think our stories and our lives are so important, in the big scheme we really are just moments. We will come and go and leave behind evidence of our love and reverence and the beauty of the natural world will stand as the great collector of what has come and gone.
This is life as it is, not how I might want it to be. I would have loved to climb to the vista of Chimney Rock, but settled from the view from the bottom.
Driving home, the rain rattled our windshield, moving in and out of sunlight and clouds. As my girl slept, I inhaled gratitude for all that I have in this life, as it is. I have moments of love and sadness; I have seconds of clarity and confusion. I’m learning to open to the ordinary in the extraordinary, and live in the paradox between the light and darkness.
I’m learning to live in life as it is, not what I might want it to be. Because really, isn’t this extraordinary path we find ourselves on just exactly as it is supposed to be?