I pulled off the road and gazed out the window into the dark cloudy sky. Fluffy snowflakes were falling. The sagebrush and juniper trees were blanketed in white. My mind began to swim with questions and doubts about the timing of this camping trip. The wintery weather presented challenges. Plus I was only an hour away from home and already had gotten lost. Well, not exactly lost. The winding mountain road and red rock mesas were familiar, beloved places. But somehow I’d missed the turn that would take me farther west.
I stepped out of the car, breathed in the fresh morning air and felt the cool, light touch of snow on my face. My sense of adventure began to revive. I spread out the map (an old-school paper map) and could see I needed to backtrack a few miles. This would carry me past the wild lands where my four-legged friend, Jasmine, was buried. By driving too far north and missing the turn to head west, I would pass by her burial grounds twice this morning – which was twice more than in the last four years.
It was barely beyond sunrise and only a few miles into a journey to a place I was told about in my dreams. And here I was, unexpectedly circling around the land and through the stories of my life, weaving the threads of where I had been with where I was now and where I was heading, a not yet complete tapestry.
Tending to my usual responsibilities, striving to complete a long list of to-dos, structuring life according to the clock — there was no room for these things alongside the food, clothes, medicine bundles, and blankets I’d packed. Any judgments that snuck in (such as: missing the turn is a wrong-doing, I’m failing in my journey, backtracking is a waste of time) were getting tossed out the window. The stress-filled idea that I should be doing something more important, or be somewhere else by now, or turn back out of fear of the many maybe-could-happen-horrible-things I could think up — all this was getting left behind. And Jasmine, in spirit, had jumped in the car and decided to come along.
The impulse for this roadtrip came from a dream which came during the night of New Moon. I was among people in a pristine place with towering red rock walls that shimmered in the sunlight. There was a feeling of harmony among us, contentment and peace, love and belonging, appreciation for the beauty of life. The visceral sensation stayed with me for days. It felt nourishing, grounding, a reassurance that I can do this, that we (humanity) can live this, a remembering of who we are and how we can be.
So that’s where I was heading, to find this place. I’d been given the name in my dream. Through some research, I discovered that in the native language of the Diné people, this particular land is the Center of the World, sacred ceremonial ground.
There’s much that unfolded on the way there and while visiting. In a word, I’d call it Magic. Unsettling. Compelling. And leaving me with the awareness of my desire to learn more, to listen to the land and to the people, to share and interact, to cultivate connection and deepen understanding. I’ll be returning again soon.
The day seemed to last forever. I ventured through diverse lands and around the outskirts of rural villages. There were herds of wild horses, woolly sheep being guided across the meadow by dogs, grazing elk, and lots of rabbits. The sky was spectacular, an endless dance of cloud formations, sun, rain, snow, winds, and wide-open blue. The miles passed by not so much in a straight line nor with any linear sense of time. I was traveling the backroads, guided by curiosity, spiraling around, exploring the great expanses of land and life from different perspectives and points of view.
As the sun settled closer to the western horizon, I hadn’t found a place yet to camp. Traveling in the direction that would eventually get me home, I had some concern that I would end up driving long into the night.
Then I saw it. The sign for Chaco Canyon. Instinctively, I turned left toward the entrance but then paused, hesitating, in the middle of the road. Was the campground even open? Could I get there before dark? Would the gates already be closed? Was I really going to drive all the way down the twenty-mile rutted dirt road, which would take about an hour, only to have to turn back?
Although they valiantly tried, the doubts and worries couldn’t tone down the excitement, the sense of homecoming that already filled my heart. I was returning to Chaco Canyon. I’d been here several years ago on a roadtrip filled with magic from the moment I’d begun packing. There was a full moon eclipse last time I was here. The full moon was rising now in the east. Chaco Canyon was the birthing place for one of the ceremonial pipes I’d carved. That stone pipe was with me now, the only one that came along, wrapped in coyote fur, nestled in the baskets of medicine items in my car. The earlier visit to Chaco was the year Jasmine died. And she was with me now too.
I hadn’t planned this. I couldn’t have planned this. At least not logically. If there’s nothing else I’ve learned through my winding path in life: this is the beauty of how things unfold when following dreams, when listening to the callings of the spirit and heart.
I ended up parking off a side road outside the main gate. No visitors’ center. No other cars. Just the mesas, the full moon, the sunset, the land, the spirits, (some chocolate), and me. I placed four corn bundles around my car, creating a sacred altar space, asking the land spirits for protection. Wrapping up in more layers of clothes, adding scarves, hat and mittens, I happily started down the trail.
I walked into the setting sun and kept turning around to face the rising full moon. The stillness of the land was alive with great mystery. I felt the vast field of knowledge held here among the rocks and living in the soils and singing out from the birds and dancing around the ancient ruins. Exhilarated, I felt a part of it all. The pure passion of life itself. The beauty of our earth. The cycles of our sun and moon. The weaving of the web of life. The creativity and connection flowing through what is and has been, through all that is readying to be.
I took another breath, another step… (to be continued)