Early this month, I had the opportunity to organize and direct a photoshoot for Yakima Racks (my job) in Joshua Tree National Park. I’m naturally a desert lover, something I believe I’ve inherited from my grandparents on my mother’s side. Being in the desert make me feel like my lungs are finally capable of expanding to their fullest potential. Living in the thick air of a sea level rainforest here in the Willamette Valley can put one’s body into a state of ease, because it never has to work that hard to keep existing. I loved the shock of the cold winter high desert air, thin and pure.
The nights in the park were cold. So cold! The coldest I’ve ever been in a tent. I missed the warm body of my husband at night while I stewed about whether I’d get frost bite on the tip of my nose if I left it exposed. When clouds don’t come like an extra blanket layer at night, the exposure is so much greater.
I lived in southern California for a brief year and a half of college about 16 years ago. I left in a bit of a rush, hating the traffic, hating the stress, wishing I were back home with my people whom I felt comfortable with. Returning this time, to a place that I’ve never visited, reminded me of many of the great things about the place that I had forgotten to miss. The gradient color of the sky in the evenings. The intensity of the sun in the winter months, cutting through the cold air and warming you deep down. The more subtle joy of a desert landscape, minimalist in vegetation, which forces better appreciation of those things which manage to live in the harsh setting. In Joshua Tree, one has to recognize the value of something so simple as water, an element of annoyance to my bike commuter self during Oregon winters.
We worked hard on the shoot. Call time was 6:15 am for sunrise shots. We shot until dark, working around the campfire. It was cold, windy, warm, exposed. We slept in tents or in cars, bundled up and probably each relishing our moments alone after long days with the crew. Yet I came away from each day physically exhausted but mentally sharp. What a great feeling! The key was being unable to be distracted by my email, text messages, phone calls, and office BS that commonly plagues my daily life. The insistence from my company that we work on 26 projects at any given time, giving each one equal attention, because everything is of equal importance. I feel like a terrible person if I fail to respond to emails within a couple hours. I know that I’ll often just forget entirely because my own scattered mind can’t keep it all together, so I get anxious about giving my messages instant attention. I know this is bad for me, yet I continue to do so. It was such a delicious relief to be actually incapable of behaving this way for a solid 4 days! Sometimes I have to be saved from myself.
I also was lucky enough to work with people who displayed a wonderful outlook on life, demonstrating a peace and pace of living that I’ve been craving. Gina and Adam, two climbers who are staying in or near Joshua Tree for the remainder of the winter, are living a simple life in a converted van of their own design. They have carved a life for themselves that is centered around their passions, and they have forced their working lives to fit the mold they created. Most of us do the opposite. We come into our working years with fervor and attachments, but end up pushing them aside or shoving them into an inconvenient corner in favor of putting our jobs on top. Then 35 years later, after we’ve done our time, sufficiently punished our bodies and minds, we allow ourselves a brief retirement to remember those things we lost for a few last good years before our bodies break down and we sink into old age.
This isn’t to say that we can’t be perfectly happy and fulfilled in our lives by growing our careers. There is nothing inherently wrong with that path. I simply need to learn to put my passions first. I am learning who I am every year, and one thing I’ve come to realize is that I can’t be happy in one place. I need to put my desire to affect change first. Now. How to do that?
Dates: February 2-5th. Campground: White Tank. Cohorts: Maggie Hudson, Ryan Lindquist, Evan Burgher, Gina Edwards, and Emme Perkuhn. Climb: Headstone. Miles Driven: over 800. Thanks to Yakima for footing the bill, Gina for teaching me to climb, and Maggie for capturing the evidence (below).