I had spent about five months in the Southwest, and I was beginning a roundabout meandering back to the Midwest. A few years ago, I might have called the Midwest my stomping ground, roost, flop, backyard, or some sort of other euphemism for being settled, but now I don’t really call anywhere “home.”
That’s too big of a word. It carries too much connotation with it. As a dear friend put it, home has a “heart connection.”
After being in motion for so long things become a bit disorienting, but I think that’s a good thing. Always striving for balance and always approaching each day as if facing a totally new horizon. You usually are.
I had been staying in a little oasis. Multiple biomes, where desert meets water and where mountains touch the sky. Wildlife was diverse and abundant. Trails unending. Floating on soft ground. Even rocky trails seem to give way and bend with your footsteps. Meditative dreaming.
I made a turn west and found an incredible extreme in Yuma. Desolate. Sand baked to concrete in 108-degree temps. Wind farms, sun farms, RV parks, hellacious cross winds, no visible wildlife. In stark contrast, there was deep blue water, but it was running in cement canals siphoning from the Colorado river. All to be used for local agriculture or industry. No longer feeding the Earth. No longer reaching the Sea.
I continued on for a brief visit to the ocean, the absolute opposite of Yuma, and turned right this time heading back towards the center of the country. With a slight divergence north, I was now in 40 to 60-degree temps, picturesque mountains, spring-fed streams, towering vegetation, wildlife on steroids. Simply amazing.
Mid-world again, I find myself on an asphalt trail. No longer the soft earth. No longer the coating of dust on my boots. It’s an old section of railway. The lines defunct, the tracks were torn up and they were paved over. There are many paths like this here and they’re all named after the railroad that used to glide down the missing rails. The Great Western Trail, Blue River Rail Trail, Katy Trail, Rock Island Trail. The list goes on.
They’re hard on the feet, ankles and knees, but they can wind through some beautiful countryside and trace serpentine waterways. But they’ll also be close to civilization.
One of the first contrasts I notice upon being back is the humidity. I had been in the high desert, north and south – clean, crisp air – warm in the south, cool in the north. The barren desert, with no trace of moisture. And the coastal region, where gentle sea breezes moderate the air. Here the humidity is so thick you could cut it with a machete. I struggle to breathe, feeling a heavy weight on my chest.
The high desert was full of wildlife, but it largely moved in silence. Here the air is abuzz with birds and insects. A constant hum, chirp or chattering. Even the squirrels have something to say – clicking and barking. Warding you off. An angry wren gives its warning call when I get too close to its nest.
The vegetation is radically different. While both parts of the country share oaks, willows and sycamores, the varieties here are much larger. Leaves can be ten times the size of those in the southwest. So much more rainfall here to feed their roots, nourish their trunks, spread to their leaves. They grow 65 to 85 feet tall, not 20 to 30. A full-grown oak here can put 200 gallons of water into the air each day. Respiration. Humidification. To come down as rain again later when icy winds in the upper atmosphere collide.
Plus, there are also hickories, elms, maples, sumac, sweet gums, catalpas, walnuts, cherries, plumbs, olives, locust, hedgewood, redbuds, dogwoods, and buckeyes. Too many to name them all. Most are second and third generation, or younger, this area having been clear-cut by the pioneers. But a few first generation trees still remain. Older than your grandparents and with trunks so huge it takes four or five people holding hands to reach around their circumference.
The stream beds here aren’t pristine like those I saw out west. They’re totally polluted. Agricultural runoff from crops and feedlots. Toxic algae blooms. Industrial waste. Discarded trash. Plastic bags. These waters haven’t experienced respect in a long time. Fish still survive in them, but I wouldn’t eat them.
And there is a different kind of people here too. In the high desert I encountered fellow hikers. Luminous glows. Shining eyes. Happy to be in nature. Thrilled to say hello. Knowing you were sharing the experience.
Here there are few enjoying nature. A couple walks their dog, but turn away as you pass. The homeless. Looking for a place to wait out the day, and for another to stay warm at night. Drinking two forty-ounce beers for breakfast.
Yes, there is still staggering beauty here, but also some depression. Weight.
It seems harder to settle in each time I come back.
But along comes a familiar face. A beam of light. I wrote about this person before. Maybe I’ll encounter more of the radiant.
There is hope . . .
Photo: Along the trail that skirts both countryside and city. With pretty streams, but of polluted waters. Through towering trees, but on an asphalt ribbon. Many contrasts . . .
I wrote about this town in Echoes of Home. And I hope this piece doesn’t sound overly depressive. After you’ve experienced other amazing places it is an adjustment to return to what you’ve become accustomed to seeing as being mundane. But persons visiting this area for the first time will probably be amazed at the unique beauty and history here 🙂
Prior Chapters of Contrasts: