Teri Orr: The goal is grounded…
These days I miss the dirt — ache for it really. That dark, peaty, moist dirt where earthworms live, making meals of themselves for spring robins. I am ready for green shoots to appear in the yard — whispers of hollyhocks late summer and the return of raspberry bushes and the lavender round the porch.
It wasn’t until I moved to Utah in my late 20s — after growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area — I appreciated dirt. When I lived at Lake Tahoe with two small children — come spring they found every bit of dirt to cover themselves in. I didn’t garden then. I was consumed with work and raising small children. When we moved to Park City, they were 6 and 8 and dirt seemed less of an attraction for any of us.
Somewhere in the early ’90s when the kids headed off to college I discovered the desert and red dirt. I traveled with Linda Meyer twice a year — for years — to help in the beginnings of the Adopt-a-Native program. We were sometimes a “caravan” of just two or three cars. We stayed in a hogan once and the Navajo weavers and their families took us into their worlds in appreciation for the skeins of yarn we brought them to weave more rugs. We were included in ceremonies honoring the beginning and ending of the light. And ceremonies for healing humans and the Earth. We would be taken on hikes into ceremonial burial grounds on The Rez. I remember the blessings always including mixing in some red dirt.
When I would return from those trips the red dirt stayed in my wheel wells and trunk of my car and on the running boards for weeks. The body of the car would look clean enough to the average person but for those who saw, they would smile and nod and say something like, “I miss the desert too.” It was code for so many things. There was a quiet understanding that passed between and a reminder, albeit briefly, of how it felt to be grounded.
And this time of year I grow so restless for that sense of grounding, that oddly for me, only comes from being a vagabond. Driving without destination — a meditation of many miles — putting me away from my day-to-day world and closer to myself. My job requires me to be around people all of the time — day and night — any day, most days of the week. And it brings me great joy. Until it doesn’t. And then the only way for me to fill up again — is to escape. To find sacred ground. Higher ground. Common ground.
I think there were years, maybe even decades, when I was young raising those kids, where I missed ever really seeing a sunrise or noticing a sunset. If I had been up all night with a sick child, by the time the sun rose there was just a little sigh of relief, maybe a silent prayer — not for the majesty of the sunrise but because we had somehow made it through the night — from the cough or the high fever or the pain. And sunsets? They meant the kids would finally be ready to slow down a bit — the routine of dinner and baths and bedtime stories. The hypnotic rhythm of parenting small children.
My forties were spent discovering where I felt grounded in the world — I was single and my children no longer lived with me. I would find myself happiest when the car would be loaded up with books and new music and notebooks and my camera. And no planned stops or really final destinations. Those dreamy long trips laid the groundwork for everything else. Being open to new people and places, sure. But mostly, spending enough time to erase the work/life imbalance. And I would return, with a red dust shield that would last for months against my work world.
Now I find the time between rejuvenation longer and more difficult to plan out. There are hardly any off-season weeks really. Just weeks spent planning the next season and evaluating the past one. When I turned in my leased car in November and found another four-wheel-drive, off-road vehicle, I was embarrassed by the mileage. The dealer, however, loved it — less than 10,000 miles a year. To me — it screamed FAILURE! Driving around town and occasionally to Salt Lake City and maybe one, limited desert trip a year was the uneventful life of that car. When I transferred out a few possessions from one car to the next, I carefully removed the cut-glass beadwork and braided horsehair loop from my rearview mirror. It has been on every car I have driven since it was given to me by the wife of a Navajo medicine man on one of those first trips in the ’90s to The Rez. Most days I forget it is even there.
But this time of year, I find myself lovingly working the beads and the horsehair though my fingers when I get in the car in the morning. And sometimes at the end of day. It is a both a promise and a prayer. I will soon enough find myself amid red rock walls with luminescent spring green trees on creek beds. I will quiet the monkey chatter in my mind. I will soak up the desert heat like a lizard on a flat rock. I will have red dirt in shoes and hair and rubbed deep into my skin. I will be so lost, so very utterly lost in my surroundings I will begin to find myself again. I don’t know yet when I can make my escape but I am plotting now, for days on end, when I won’t be spending every Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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