Finisterre: Road Trip Ends, but Journey Continues

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

At the end of this 4700 mile road trip, I am cascaded with memories of a still frozen North and sleeping in single digit temperatures in the Yukon, mincing my steps on ice the first three nights. Then as we wound south, the peeking of green, the sight of migrating swans, the first shy flowers, and then the thrill of big towering trees as we dropped into Hope, British Columbia just before the border. The temperatures rose to the forties and fifties, as the rain pelted down in Washington and Oregon, the fields green and the daffodils riotous in their showy yellow. We crossed the Sierras with snow piled six to eight feet on each side and sticks of trees protruding from recent avalanches, and then we descended to a campground on the eastern side, in fields of lupine and orange poppies. Finally the temperatures rose to the sixties and seventies. We began to throw off the covers in the camper, sought out our sandals, put away the heavy coats. The air became dry and dusty and as we entered the high desert, bright yellow desert dandelions covering the slopes with the sage and dry brush. And finally we left the high country and felt the press of temperatures in the eighties and nineties and finally one hundred when we reached Palm Springs. Here the cactus were in high bloom, and harebells and flowers with strange names like white tack stem and Mormon tea. We camped in the midst of big smooth granite boulders and Joshua trees. We only lasted two days there before scampering up to the mountains again in northern Arizona to cooler temps, settling into a mountain cabin among the Ponderosa pines. So many clear nights of star gazing and moon watching. So many times that we stumbled upon the right camp spot or surprising vista. Tomorrow begins our long-awaited raft down the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon where stones 1.85 billion years old will enfold me in their history and mystery, and I can only imagine the river itself will teach me in its own unique way about going with the flow, not resisting the rapids, trusting in what unfolds. It also means I will be off-grid for eight days and not able to post by next Monday—so this one is a double : )

Beyond the outer memories of this road trip, I noticed a subtle sweet inner journey happening too. Of course, there were so many times my soul felt uplifted, filled and humbled by the sheer beauty of the landscape. But I’m speaking to a more subtle sense. A sense that very small things would bring me suddenly to quiet tears. Like my heart was open in a new way that surprised me. I was so often touched by my experience, exploring new places within me, places I didn’t even know I had protected. 

One of them happened at a Saturday market in Prescott, Arizona as we wandered the scattered booths, searching for breakfast. It seemed unremarkable at first—a stand selling fair trade coffee. The seller was an older man and something about his features made me sure he was from a Central American country. My friend picked up the coffee bag—El Salvador. Then I read the hand-lettered sign that listed the attributes of these particular coffee beans. It was grown from “sustainable agriculture—”no pesticides, shade-grown, complex canopy, direct from farm to consumer.”  But it was the last line that caught me. “We pay high enough wages that our workers don’t have to immigrate.” Unbidden tears came to my eyes. Surprised I tried to swallow and blink my eyes to calm them down. Why was I crying? 

And then I realized many years ago, I had begun to stuff away feelings about immigrants that I had met and lived among. Some of this happened in Mexico with immigrants at a shelter in Tijuana and some happened in Anchorage with the Hmong from Laos. At the shelter, I was just present and listened to the immigrant stories and worked on housing at the town dump where a village had grown up. In Anchorage, I helped in all the usual ways of food, housing, getting a green card, transportation and jobs. And always being present and listening to the stories. But the stories were so tragic, so violent, so unjust, so harrowing and the needs so great. Without really knowing it, I think now that I gradually shut my heart down to actually feeling how angry, helpless and inadequate I felt listening to and knowing these stories. I wanted to save them, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t fully understand the culture. I made mistakes. I couldn’t control bad outcomes. And the injustice itself was systemic. I felt myself pull away, naming it compassion fatigue, but not understanding the consequences then to my heart. 

But through following my spiritual path of inquiry, teachings and meditation, my heart has been opening. It seems such a small thing, just seeing a sign saying that workers don’t have to immigrate and face such suffering in doing so. Knowing there are fellow human beings aligning themselves with hope against the odds—not succumbing to cynicism, as I wrote about last week. 

It’s such a vulnerable thing—to feel what you feel. But it is the way through. I let myself feel those tears and I spent time curious about why. In doing so, my capacity to be with painful situations has matured. I have moved away from feeling I need to save people, to believing my presence is enough. I’ll know how I want and need to respond and it will be attuned.

Stephen Levine, poet and author best known for his work on death and dying, was asked once  by a member of the audience this foundational question: “What is the meaning of life?”

Levine acknowledged that was a vast question, but in that moment he said, “I think the meaning of life is to let your heart be broken.”   

I think I understand what he was saying. It means living a life beyond being in control, knowing all the answers, or knowing anything at all. But there is where real life simply is—rich and fertile and real. The tears that live so close to the surface in me now I take as my guides to opening my heart to being broken, so as the singer Leonard Cohen says, so “the light can come in.” 

One thought on “Finisterre: Road Trip Ends, but Journey Continues

  1. I love so much about this, and it reminds me of a favorite quote from John O’Donohue: “I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” Blessings as you experience this next river journey, my friend!


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