The following are a sample of excerpts from my journal that I kept while I was on the road. I started journaling as soon as the 2016 spring semester of college finished. The day I left Ithaca College, May 14, is marked as “Day 1, Year 1.”
I have enjoyed rereading my journal over the past couple of days, and I wanted to share some of these moments from my travels.
May 14, 2016 | Acadia National Park, Maine
Context: I just finished the Spring 2016 semester at Ithaca College, and I am on a community service trip to Acadia National Park with other Ithaca College students.
The ocean. We have different names for all the different waters, but it’s all one ocean. It’s all connected. The waters gracing the shores tonight were once touching Australia’s shores. It was once frozen in ancient icebergs and glaciers. What a powerful force the ocean is. I could have sat there and listened to the waves and stared into the fog on the horizon forever. We are nothing. We are not better, we are not conquerors. And those who want to be are fools. The ones who live to tame nature will never know its wild beauty. And they will have pockets full of money and be the poorest people in the world.
We are tiny. We are insignificant. We are nothing. The Ocean and the Earth made us and we will go back to them when we die. What an honor. …
The ocean is dying. We could not tame her, so we poisoned her. What a tragic mistake. How do we begin to ask forgiveness and right our wrongs? Do we deserve a second chance?
Will my children be able to remember the Earth when it was beautiful?
May 17, 2016 | Acadia National Park, Maine
I am tired of hearing older people rip on my generation for dreaming, for our idealism. Of hearing people say things are too set in their ways to change. They speak like people who are broken, who accept systems of oppression because they are too tired to fight them. If idealism is about pursuing the most beneficial, ideal situation for the most people, I don’t see what the problem is. Don’t we want more happiness and equality for all? Why on Earth should we not work toward that?
May 22, 2016 | EcoVillage, Ithaca, New York
Context: Written on my last day in Ithaca before going home to prepare for my van travels
All around me the birds are singing and the insects are whirring and the peepers are peeping. I’m sitting on the water tower overlooking Ithaca for the last time for a long while. How beautiful this place is. Katie’s berry farm is in full bloom to the south and the sky is turning brilliant shades of sunset to the north, dotted with slate grey clouds. Below the city’s lights are beginning to twinkle like fireflies or like stars in the early morning before twilight…
Tomorrow my dad is coming to gather me and the rest of my stuff. I know I will miss this place, this village tucked away in the trees watching over the valley below, the slow, beautiful way of living here, full of fruitful gardens and fresh-picked vegetables. But it is time to move on, for this is not the only beautiful, quiet corner of the world. I will remember this fine choir of the birds and insects and frogs until I return to hear it again. The deep and lovely greens of summer’s bloom and the foothills rolling away into a hazy horizon are what I love most about New York, the real New York. I hope people continue to think New York is just the city, so the Finger Lakes remain sleepy, undisturbed, and beautiful for many years to come.
June 3, 2016 | Rhinebeck, New York
Context: Written after my first day on the road
I think I realized for the first time today I am on my own schedule. I don’t need to be stressed out. I can let go.
I can be present.
June 9, 2016 | Cowles Bog Trail, Indiana Sand Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana
Context: The Indiana Sand Dunes are situated in a heavily industrialized area
I found myself in a calm, somewhat sad, and pensive state as I walked along the sandy trail.
When the trail emerged onto the beach, the smokestack loomed not a half a mile away. I was mesmerized by the billows of grey smoke boiling out of the mouth of the stack and quickly filling out into a big cloud. As it spread wider and climbed higher, the smoke would turn a sickly, rusty orange color around the edges before dissipating into the atmosphere to becomes parts per billion. It was hard to focus on the beauty of the beach and Lake Michigan.
I walked to the water’s edge and put my feet in. The water was cool, not cold, and I was sweaty from climbing over the dune to get to the beach. I had the whole place to myself. I stripped all of my clothes off and waded out into the Michigan and dunked myself. In the brief moment before turning back, I thought about just swimming out, far out, and letting myself sink under the watch of the smokestack. It’s hard to explain why I had such a thought.
June 15, 2016 | rest stop near Garden City, Kansas
I didn’t make it far before I had to pull over on a dirt road and just stop to take it in. I watched the sun set behind a distant grain silo, and the sky to the east was the most deep, beautiful shade of blue I had ever seen. And the sky to the north boiled with rain and hail and lightning. The electric storm was just brilliant. Lightning spider-webbed across the sky and came in giant, blinding purple and white bolts. I saw what I thought were the bubble clouds that sometimes area a tornado indicator, but they went away.
The wheat fields around me shimmered and rustled in the winds and the dirt road trailed away into beautiful nowhere.
I sat on top of my van with the radio turned up and took it all in. The storms had cooled the 100+ degree day. People stared at me as they drove by on the main route. I wish they had joined me. …
I did not expect to fall in love with Kansas. I saw it as my bridge to Colorado. But I feel like I could just stay here and be swallowed up by the landscape and the lightning.
June 16, 2016 | Alamosa, Colorado
My first glimpse of the mountains came like a hazy mirage, and I had to keep looking at it to be sure what I saw was true. The mountains solidified out of the haze, the details of their faces came into focus, and as the plains fell away behind me, the mountains dominated the landscape.
Twenty miles out from Fort Garland, I had to get a tow. The van seemed to be struggling to shift gears and couldn’t maintain speed. Tonight I’m sleeping in the parking lot of the shop I was towed to in Alamosa. I’ll find out in the morning what’s wrong. Hopefully not expensive. The tow guy, Joe, was a really nice older gentleman.
I went to a bar for a bit to find Wi-Fi and people. Played pool and chatted with strangers. Beautiful, lovely, human strangers.
June 19, 2016 | Caja del Rio Plateau, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico
I am the only human soul for many, many miles. I am bivvying on a windy, open area beneath a bush. My van is parked beside me playing classic rock and blues on a crisp, clear radio station. The wind rushes, the mountains sleep in the distance, the stars glitter, and the full moon glows.
I am so happy. I am alone and alive out here in the near-wilderness, in lovely enchanting New Mexico. If I died now I don’t think I would be found for weeks.
I am so happy. I don’t have words for how I feel. I’m just so glad to finally be away from the toxic college environment. From the constraints of our culture.
I am me.
I am free.
June 23, 2016 | Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico
The Gila Wilderness is vast and lovely, and you feel so small and fragile here. The Gila River is New Mexico’s last free-flowing river.
As I walked through the dwelling caves, I felt as though I could not step softly enough or breathe quietly enough. I felt a sense of being allowed a rare privilege to be here more than I felt like a visitor.
To imagine living my hole life in this quiet corner of wilderness, whether as one of the squirrels scampering along the cliff face across the ravine, or as an ancient person, makes my body relax and my mind lapse into a peaceful place. To only know the sounds of singing birds and running water and wind rushing through the ravine and rocks clattering and fires crackling and the warm voices of my family. To have never heard a car horn or a whirring air conditioner or a plane buzzing overhead or a gunshot. To have been born in this place, and peer out into the mountains with wonder and familiarity.
I am in love with New Mexico and all of its faces and moods and tempers. I do not know if I will find anything more beautiful than this state. I have my whole life to try.
June 26, 2016 | South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
A single river created all of this. And it’s still working away at it, digging the canyon deeper. I can see the Colorado River from where I’m sitting now. It’s so small in comparison, and yet, it is responsible for the whole thing. It has exposed hundreds of millions of years of geological records. Looking at the exposed rock layers, all different colors and textures, is like going back in time. …
You can hear every breath of wind here, and when a bird flies by you can hear the air whistling in its wings. The condors are magnificent.
I feel my heart growing, trying to fit this beautiful vastness inside its corridors.
August 14, 2016 | Berkeley, California
Context: Written after working as a tour guide in San Francisco for a few weeks
I have been having strange dreams.
I spend the first couple hours of each night dreaming about giving tours and shuttles around the city, and I become convinced that it is a part of my job, so I take it seriously as my dreams take me in frustrating circles that make no sense around the city. The dreams are always stressful and I don’t feel like I’m actually resting. I will often wake and remind myself it’s completely ridiculous and try to not think about tour guiding, and somehow I slip back into it.
When that torment finally finishes, the frightening and disturbing dreams will begin. Like the tour guiding dreams, these ones make me feel like I am getting no rest, and even when I wake and shake myself of them, when I fall asleep I re-enter them almost immediately. They are the kind of dreams that make perfect sense until I wake up, and then nothing I remember about them makes any sense at all.
I wake in the morning feeling awful, tired, and sad, and all I want is to sleep more. I slept for nearly 10 hours last night, and I feel absolutely exhausted this morning.
This has been happening to me for at least a week now, although it’s hard to tell when it started.
I’m drinking caffeine again.
September 22, 2016 | Berkeley, California
I want to be remembered as someone who cared. I want to be someone who just loves, regardless of whether the recipient is an old friend or a complete stranger.
I want to be free of anger, bitterness, and anxiety. I want peace, love, and joy for myself. And for everyone.
I want my life to measured in the tears I shed from laughter, in the words I wrote and wrapped up in an envelope so they could make the journey to someone who needed them, in the number of moments where I was just a tiny speck, yet completely infinite.
I hope I die with empty pockets and a wide smile.
October 21, 2016 | Death Valley National Park, California
I’m out. I’m out of the Bay Area, out of a job, and heading back into the nomadic lifestyle. It was interesting — it was almost a little nerve-wracking to leave again, as if I were afraid I had forgotten how to do this. But I am excited and happy.
It got dark before I got to the pretty part of the drive. At one point I was driving along the edge of a cliff, and I could tell there was a steep drop, but I couldn’t see how far. That freaked me out a bit. At the end of the drive I repeatedly gained and lost a few thousand feet of elevation. A coyote crossed the road in front of me.
And the stars… I can see the milk spilled across the sky directly over my tent. I haven’t seen them like this in months, only city lights and that eerie orange glow of light pollution. And to think as a tour guide I compared the Bay Bridge Lights to the stars. What nonsense.
I saw a few Joshua Trees at sunset. Their twisted, scaly arms seemed to wave at me, welcoming me back. I feel like I’m home, as I sit here in my tent.
November 7, 2016 | Redwoods State and National Parks, California
The redwoods are not as large as the sequoias, but still immensely impressive. And the forest as a whole is a completely different world in which the redwoods reign supreme. The massive trees offer shelter, nourishment, and opportunity for all the other creatures they share the forest with. It is striking to see a fallen, deceased redwood overgrown and blanketed with mosses, fungi, plant life, and young trees, sipping nutrients from the gradually deteriorating trunk. A redwood can spend more than a human lifetime decaying before it fades away into the soil completely.
During my walk on the Trillium Falls trail, in a fern-laden jungle that could have been Jurassic Park, I became certain of something I had always suspected; trees are the most magnificent and incredible living things on Planet Earth.
I have believed for a long time that life and death are in fact synonyms, rather than opposites. Death clears away the old and makes way for new life, for progress, for evolution. Without death, life simply could not exist, and therefore death is a part of a continuing process, rather than just being the end of it.
November 16, 2016 | Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
I have been sitting on the shore of Jenny Lake for at least an hour now. My only company has been a squirrel and the gentle sound of the crystal clear water lapping against the rocks.
Usually this place is easily accessible by vehicles, but the main park road is closed. I walked nearly five miles to get here, and I have to walk that same distance back. It was worth it. I don’t think very many people have the opportunity to enjoy one of the Grant Teton National Park’s most popular places in solitude.
It is cold. The mountaintops are shrouded in fog and clouds, and I have yet to see the summits of most of them. Their midriffs bulge out of the foggy cover toward the road, and as I watch them it seems as though they are advancing, with all the patience and determination of a glacier. They have a formidable presence. When I hold still and listen, I’m certain I can hear the winds howling at their peaks. From many thousands of feet below, it sounds like a whispered secret, or perhaps the faint rumbling of their forward movement.
The water of Jenny Lake is perfectly clear. I can see every detail of each pebble beneath the surface at the shoreline. It is almost too pristine to be water. Earth’s riches lie not in golden ore hidden inside mountains, or the black oil beneath our feet. Water is Earth’s greatest treasure. It is the rich lifeblood of this planet.