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Internal navigational devices

Teri Orr, Park Record columnist

I am restless right now. It sweeps over me this same time each year. I have spent another winter in a frenzied work/family/family/work mode with little time for myself. Little time for reflection.

Years and years ago, maybe a dozen, maybe more, I remember reading a piece about actor Larry Hagman. It showed him at his beautiful home on the beach in Malibu and it talked about all his successes. But the thing that stuck with me was him explaining that he spent every Sunday in solitude, without speaking. Without speaking. The very idea of that filled me with wonder and envy. My world involves speaking, much speaking, too much speaking. The allure of the absolute solitary Sunday was powerful.

I rarely accomplish that what with my grandchildren and some elder care and folks who pass by when I’m out in my yard most warmish Sundays. But this time of year this dreary, sometimes sunny, always unpredictable season of spring in the mountains I find myself itching to jump in the car and start driving alone to … I don’t know where/anywhere.

I mentioned this the other night to a newer friend, over a drink, at the end of a very long, very public day. She looked shocked. "I can’t imagine you enjoying such a solo adventure," she said. "You’re such an extrovert."

And it was I who was shocked. Is that who I appear to be? An extrovert? If so, it is a farce. A façade created to do my job. A persona of puffery used to navigate waters I would never willingly enter on my own.

I am a reader. A listener of all kinds of music. An explorer of places I never knew I would uncover in my unplanned travels. A wanderer. A solitary soul. Content for long stretches of time exploring my own paths of thought. And delighting in becoming lost.

I have considered giving a talk about this idea, that the worst invention of the last decade was the easily installed navigation systems in cars and on smart phones. I don’t want to know the sure thing. I am happy to look up on a map a location and head in that general direction, but if I followed only straight lines I would miss the adventures of discovery.

I would have missed that bar in Montana years ago, on a dusty side street in a town that had maybe just four streets in it. The bar still had a banner hanging out front advertising an event I had missed by a week. The annual Testicle Festival: Rocky Mountain oysters prepared in dozens of ways with prize money for the most popular selection. There was also a stunning tiny church in that same town, with amazing stained glass windows. I sat in there for the longest time and watched the light make patterns on the floor.

In the Bay Area, where I have gone every few months for the past five years to check in on my mother’s dementia care, I have found myself most often on auto pilot driving between the ridiculously named "memory care facility" and a hotel on the beach 20 minutes away. Except that Sunday morning when I wasn’t flying out until the evening and I took the rental car down the coast highway and climbed up into the hills above on a road I never once remember driving in my years growing up there. There were the most beautiful ranches and farmland and acres of flowers and romping horses and the whole thing ended up at a fabulous mountain-top biker bar. More colorful than all the agricultural land I had passed.

Once, doing work on the Navajo Reservation, I became lost trying to find the next hotel where my fellow workers had moved to for the night. I ended up on a beautiful red dirt/clay road in the middle of open country in the middle of a spectacular thunderstorm. For a moment, I panicked. I had no sense of direction, there was zero signage, or landmarks. Just the forever red dirt and cliffs and little vegetation. But the sky was so spectacular with the zigzag lightning and sheets of rain. And I had to concentrate. The road had been so dry that rain didn’t soak in and I found myself hydroplaning at maybe ten miles an hour. It was a dizzying, exhilarating, slightly frightening experience. I arrived long after dark at the hotel, feeling strangely alive and uniquely blessed.

My soul needs solitude. Vast amounts. Generally spent in nature. Often combined with adventure. Best of all unplanned, undirected. Because of a myriad of obligations, time for those adventures is more and more difficult to come by. I must be somewhere, exactly, at a time, exactly, to participate in something that has been designed to happen, exactly.

What I need, right about now, it a stretch of time and a stretch of road, and some familiar old music and a bit of junk food. The road meditation, the lack of conversation, the lost exploration. An introvert can get by for a spell with an occasional Sunday without speaking and with reading to be lost. But in spring, this introvert needs to be on the roads less traveled. Finding and losing myself, over and over, on Sundays out of the Park …

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.

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