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Moab: Weird and Wonderful 27 February 2010

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I apologize for the delay. Life intervened. Now, on to Moab.

The sun has finally dipped below the horizon on the high desert, washing violet over the white sheet and I lament that I won’t see much of the drive into Moab. Nighttime highways tend to look the same more or less anywhere. An Escalade passes me. The road bends. And there below, I see the lights of Moab stretching down the valley, bringing one of the strangest sensations common to the west: that feeling of looking down from a plane while still on the ground. In the distance, tiny street lamps glow and and brake lights wink in and out of existence. To see them from above is always a bit disconcerting.

Pulling into the nondescript strip of motels and breakfast spots, I realize that I’ve expected too much and that no city so well known as a travel destination can escape the onslaught of Econo Lodges and authentic gift shops. I bet they sell coffee mugs with that southwestern dude playing the whateveritis. The, um, kokopelli.

My hostel sits behind a long term storage building and I think backs up to a trailer park whose children get free use of the common room’s TV on Saturday mornings. This is the tao of the American hostel, I gather, and is probably unremarkable in a poor southwestern town, even if the town does see hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. But it is still so poor, like so many of the placed Michael and I passed in New Mexico. Behind the glitz of the main street Moab lies another a world of rusting Fords and improbably-erect houses. Americans still live with dirt lawns and corrugated roofs, and they do so out back of the Ramada and the Burger King.

I’m once again tripping over the heartbreak of rural America, though, and it strikes me that given the number of times that same theme has popped up, I might well need to retroactively create a “heartbreak of rural America” tag for these entries.

Anyway.

The Lazy Lizard International Hostel appears to cater to two types: visitors like me looking to stay the night in Moab for less than the cost of an entree at Applebee’s, and locals living and working on wages that make $270 a month for a bunk bed an attractive option. Better than vagrancy, I suppose.

My common room companions, the lisping Ken Thorton and a Danish couple spend the evening discussing spirituality, the inevitability of suffering, and Mr. Thorton’s experiences as a budding New Age cinematographer. (You can view “Heyoka Shaman” Thornton’s work here. To see him shake a maraca for a while, skip to 1:15. To see him in a bath tub, skip ahead to 2:30.) After 23 vision quests, a ceremonial dance with the Hopi people and a brief interlude as the companion of a Buddhist aficionado, Mr. Thornton has become a spiritual conduit of sorts, speaking of clairvoyants and his ability to suck the negative energy from strangers.

But his philosophy drives me bonkers. How can he mesh Buddhism with tribal spiritualism? How does his system determine right and wrong? How does it account for the existence of other competing (and contradictory) beliefs? I don’t know, and I suspect Heyoka Shaman Thornton doesn’t either.

The next morning, I leave for Canyonlands. And after another night in the hostel, I head to Arches. Together these comprise all that is weird and wonderful about Moab. The rest… it is there, supported by the rocks which have aged in curious ways, and which, when the light hits them just right, radiate.

Back at the hostel, I slip past the neighbor kids on the way out to my car.

“Dude, come here!” one of the yells at his friend on the couch. “This cat is bleeding out its head!”

“No way!”

“Yeah, come here and check it out. This is pretty bad.”

“Duude! It’s bleeding out its ear. We should tell the guy.”

They go to find the unenthused 19 year-old who occasionally staffs the front desk.

“That cat outside is bleeding out its head. “

Nothing.

“Hey, the bus is coming! We can go into town!”

“Yeah, let’s go! Bye, dude.”

Christmas Follow-Up 28 December 2009

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I’d meant to write up some warm wishes for everyone a couple days ago, but Christmas came and went, mostly spent on the slopes or in the hot tub. This was as it should have been I suppose, but I’ve been owing you blog entries as well. I promise that the future will hold more skiing-related stuff, too, although for the moment at least, I hope you’ll bear with one more post outside the typical topics for this blog.

Anyway, I’d been meaning to ask a few questions about Christmas’s religious roots. Specifically, I’ve been wondering if you, dear readers, really believe that Jesus arrived in this world the son of the virgin Mary. For all the fuss Americans (myself included) make about the lights and trees and presents and family members and friends and… all of that, the actual meaning of Christmas receives relatively little reflection. Yes, I know that this is a tired theme for anyone who’s listened to the religious right, watched the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, or who followed that whole “War on Christmas” bonanza a few years back. So please trust me when I say I’m not looking to head down any of those paths, because I understand that academically most everyone knows that Christmas celebrates JC’s birth.

What I’m actually after is whether you believe that Mary carried Jesus to term as the product of divine… fertilisation(?). Evidently, 61% of Americans hold that indeed she did. Interesting. And then, to get a head start on an Easter post, do you believe that Jesus died, rose again, and later ascended to Heaven? Have you as a Christian or non-Christian ever truly thought out the ramifications of your considered responses?

I ask because I have almost always found it helpful to think through answers to questions like these since the process itself seems to clarify the issue. That is, you must say to yourself, “Yes, God grew Jesus inside Mary as part of His divine plan for humanity,” which differs markedly from, “Mary conceived a son whom church fathers believed to be God’s earthly manifestation.”   To say the former is to acknowledge the act of faith necessary. The same holds true for the Resurrection, where at the very least, evangelicals, must say, “I believe that Jesus rose from dead, appeared to thousands (and then S/Paul), and then ascended, bodily, to heaven. I do not believe that Mohammed ascended to heaven.”

At a time like Christmas when most thought turns to gift-giving and merry-making, it is best to say these things aloud. Perhaps not in public, but aloud nonetheless. Just to reaffirm or deny them. The physical action prompts the rationale and doesn’t allow for the tacit acknowledgements that cut off reflection. Try it, and maybe you’ll discover a bit more about your holiday convictions.

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