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Blue Lady in the Red Land

When you are on the way, it is not near it is not far

USA | Thursday, 18 August 2011 | Views [513]

Great Salt Lake, Salt lake City, Utah

Great Salt Lake, Salt lake City, Utah

I would love to have the opportunity to travel around the world, but right now I prefer to stay home for awhile. I live in Salt Lake City, Utah which is not exactly my home, or maybe it is. "Home" is, of course, that elusive concept that I could write about forever. I have worked and rented an apartment there for 6 years, I have friends there, I intend to stay awhile. So I guess Salt Lake is home for now.

I was born and grew up in the heart of the Midwest, USA. That's an underrated part of the country certainly. "Flyover country" as they say. I will probably tell you things about the Midwest when I journey back there as I do every year, but I will write mostly about where I live now, the intermountain west.

I first moved out to this region in the late 1980's in order to earn a graduate degree. I had moved from New England, a part of the US that I and many others find delightfully easy to fall in love with. New England is like the Midwest in many ways - lands of water, trees, farms, small towns with charm, bigger cities with plenty of things to do. Winters are harsh, summers can be too hot and have too many mosquitoes, spring is an always tardy but welcome gift, and autumn is the season of true glory. New England and the upper Midwest own autumn.

Certainly the western mountains out here are stunningly beautiful. But they are also dangerous and formidable. They are barriers to be surmounted not gateways to welcome you. You shouldn't just light out for the territory when you are thinking about traveling in these mountains. For example, a bad memory that will take me a lifetime to get over is a day trip I took as the driver with a car full of friends on the Peak to Peak highway in Colorado on the Fourth of July. Ice, snow, sleet, no visibility, switchbacks, no guardrails, real mountains, real danger.

Clearly I survived, but the mountains have made me humble. When you travel with me, we will not seek adventure, we will be careful about the weather, we will avoid creating adrenalin as much as we can.

When people find out where I live, often the first question to follow is "do you ski?" The answer is no, never have, probably never will. Same for snowboarding, mountain biking, mountain climbing, backpacking, whitewater travel, wilderness travel, any those outdoor sports or activities that people enjoy so much out here. This country is just made for all of that, but you know that already.If that's what you want to do, I'm not your guide (and you probably don't need me for that, anyway. You already have your own community.)

It didn't take me too long before I turned fickle about the east and fell in love with the land out here. Obviously there are the mountains, purple majesty and all that. But I looked in all directions and also found the plains, the vast expanses of land under the sun. Oh yes, and then the deserts. Forests too and rivers. Even a real lake here and there - not so many of those, but when you find them .....heaven. And everything is underneath that sky. The sky in all directions that makes you feel you are the pivot of the universe.  The sky where I really learned what weather "fronts" are because I saw them for the first time. The sky that defines blue. Now that I have it, I can't give that up. I am addicted to the sky.

I'll tell you about the land, but so many others have already done that much better than I. I'm an amateur at writing the land, dabbling for the love of it. I love the outdoors, but I spend most of my time with people, and it's learning about people that fascinates me.

In many ways I'm a person who does not belong here. As I said, it's not my home, these are not my people. But only Native Americans belong here, the rest of us are all settlers from somewhere else. 

Those of you from the US know about red states and blue states. This is a convention that was begun several years ago by television networks to designate which candidate won during presidential elections. Red for Republicans, blue for Democrats. A heck of a lot of the intermountain west is red state territory. Utah is the quintessential red state, even the land is red.

Me, I'm not a Democrat. I remain stubbornly independent, but I must say, I hardly ever find reasons to vote for Republican candidates. In fact I often disagree with my fellow citizens who are Republicans in a wanting-to-pull-my -hair-out kind of way. Some of the adjectives and nouns that describe me include: green, ecologist, tree-hugger, believer in global climate change, meditator, Zen Buddhist, mostly vegetarian, voluntary simplicity, animal lover, world citizen, traveler. I want our society to do better for the all the many disadvantaged among us, and I'm more than willing to do my part in deep gratitude for what I have been given in my life. I'm an outsider in this land many ways. My personal life and thinking are thoroughly blue. However, I'm not here to write about all that.

I work at exploring my home place deeply, to find all the good things and good people around this part of the world. I want to learn to understand and appreciate my neighbors and to be a good neighbor myself. I want to affirm why I'm here, in this place, at this time, with these people.

I like to savor everyday life, to marvel at it. I'm here to experience delight and to share it with you. I'm on the look out for all the little things, the bits and pieces that make you smile, the parts that make you say, when you go to bed, "this was a good day."

I won't necessarily be finding things that are unique, only to be found out here, things that are the best in the world. I'm just on the look out for good things that happen to be here. So we won't find the best food in the world, but we will find good food in sweet places, food you might want to eat more than once, places you might want to visit on another day. We'll do the same things you do everywhere else - eat, drink, shop, spend time with people, see things that are interesting, do things that are fun. We will do all of these things with joy and in the places where I find myself.

There is a lot of Buddhist writing about journeys, about walking the way, following the way, seeing the way. You may recognize that I shamelessly plagiarized the title of this story from the Identity of Relative & Absolute Sutra. As in the Heart Sutra, often the lesson to be learned is that what you seek is right below your feet if only you would or could  see it.

I hope that I can know what I am seeking I already have, right here, right now, in this place, at this time, with these people, in this life that I live in my ordinary way. Perhaps you want to journey along with me. If so, I welcome you as I travel on the way.

Tags: salt lake city, utah, western usa, zen

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