It’s morning. Dense fog rises off the river in the valley below, though the sky is clear. Drops of moisture diffuse the sunlight; the traffic sounds are muffled. The daylight burns off the fog, but sometimes not until noon. Everything seems to take longer, moving through the dampness. The trees are ghostly and unfamiliar.
The wall heater kicks on just before sunrise, but the rest of the day the sun heats my humble cabin. I barely notice the sloping floor anymore, or the lack of walls in the shower. The kitchen is minimal. It’s not Walden, but at 160 square feet, the small space affords me a more simple life than I’ve had in a while.
Yesterday in yoga class, Deborah had us stand on two feet and sway our bodies in all directions, front to back and side to side, then in a circle, noting our reactions.
Moving in that way, I recalled a conversation with my dad when I was still in high school. He talked about how a pendulum swings—first away from the center, then past the center in the opposite direction—and how we self-correct in a similar way. Perhaps precisely because he’s not much of a poet/philosopher, I remember the feeling that this was one of the Big Ideas.
It’s true that we humans tend to overcorrect in one direction, then in the other. Our center exists, but it takes a lot of subtle attention to find it and hang onto it. Plus our center is always changing slightly; we’re never allowed to rest in that one place, only to notice as we pass by and perhaps give a little wave.
My sabbatical is turning out to be precisely that sort of self-correction. I aimed to reclaim my creative ground, replace doubt with certitude, search deeply and well for the old creative energy that has been so elusive for the past few years.
Aimlessness isn’t something I precisely want to give up, though. From casting about come the oddest congruities, ones that generate new ideas and truths that make their way into my art and writing. If wandering about is the way to generate ideas, then I should be full of them by now: in this unfamiliar town, I find myself a little bit lost almost every day.
The drive here was a study in contrasts: basins and ranges, a highway sign that pointed to Salt Lake City in one direction and Las Vegas in the other, a black horse and a white horse standing in the middle of a lonely road. I had the urge, too often for my taste, to cry. I was in a place so flat and featureless I could see the shapes of the clouds described perfectly on the land. I stopped in the middle of the loneliest road in America to take a picture of it stretched out before me, a perfect example of vanishing perspective. (The road lives up to its name: I saw exactly 20 cars in about eight hours of driving.) A good portion of one day was spent crisscrossing the Pony Express trail. One stretch of the lonely road is patrolled for litter by the “Inner School of Natural Order,” which sounded intriguing until I looked it up. A stop sign I encountered was supplemented by a homemade sign that read: WHOA.
In spite of it all, most days I am not homesick. Life is too interesting, too full of new work and new processes. New ideas roost on my bedpost, on the studio table, the edge of my open laptop. They need me. I need them.
One of the neighbors photographed a bear in the woods just down the hill from the studio. It looked shell-shocked, in the way that 3-year-olds at a birthday party are flashbulb blind, staring blankly at the camera. From the carnage on the road every morning, there must be a vibrant community of mammals in the area, but they are shy, or busy or both.
Like the animals and the ghostly trees, I sense that there are ideas still out of reach, outlined, but not fully formed or if formed, not understood. That takes time and soothing air, and some other element I barely recall: the scent of ladybugs late in the season, or of mossy graveyards, or the taste of stale water.