Hawaii: Coastal Roads and Mountain-Consciousness

Our first week on the Big Island of Hawai’i was based around Waimea, with daily excursions to the beach or on a day hike. The second week I have come to think of as the week of the van: my uncle was kind of enough to lend Matt and I his van to travel in around the island, so we took out the back two rows of seats, put in a futon and created a little traveling home for the next week. We had a handful of my uncle’s family’s CDs for entertainment—the I Am Sam soundtrack with its Beatles covers became our theme music for the trip—as well as the exquisite changing scenery all around us and rich conversation throughout.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Kealakekua Bay – Photo by Matt Segall

Our first day with our travel van was a day trip, heading down the west coast toward Kona. After checking out the small city briefly, and stopping at a painting exhibition detailing the life and conquerings of King Kamehameha, we drove further down the coast to Kealakekua Bay, a dark blue bay with deep waters where spinner dolphins often come to rest during the day. We first walked along the rough lava rocks on the shore before finding a grassy beach area where we could lie in the sun. Although we did not encounter any dolphins we did go for a short snorkel in part of the bay, seeing a whole school of bright yellow fish among the coral. We also hiked a little ways along the shore, exploring tide pools filled with little fish, crabs, and sea anemones. On our drive back up toward Waimea we stopped off at Da Poke Shack, a tiny little storefront south of Kailua-Kona, where we got the last of the day’s catch of fresh poke served with steamed rice and seaweed salad—hands down one of the most delicious meals I’ve had on the island.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Laupahoehoe Point – Photo by Becca Tarnas

The following day Matt and I decided to head out from Waimea in the opposite direction, going east toward the Hamakua Coast. Our first stop was about 45 minutes away at Laupahoehoe Point, a leaf of lava jutting out into the more turbulent ocean crashing along the east coast. A school had been operating on this point during the first half of the 20th century, and it had been tragically impacted by the 1946 tsunami which killed 23 people, mostly young students, on this one part of the island. Further destruction hit both Hilo in the south and Waipio Valley up north. One of the most beautiful aspects of Laupahoehoe is the enormous banyan tree growing there, that was planted by the third grade class in 1916. The tree survived the incoming waters of the tsunami and still thrives today. We spent a good amount of time with this majestic goddess of a tree, climbing barefoot into her branches where whole rooms were created by the braided ropes of ascending branches and descending roots.

As we made our way back up the coast we drove into the hills above the ocean towards Kalopa Native Forest State Park, a tropical forest mired in mist where red birds flitted around us and mongooses scurried mischievously through the grass. We ate our lunch among the trees before going back toward the coast and driving up into the little town of Honaka’a, which is essentially one road with an array of little shops and cafés. The crystal store boasts the largest crystal on Hawai’i (although it actually originated in Brazil), and the woman running the shop offers free mini massages with a rounded crystal as you sit on a geode-encrusted stool named the “chair of adventure.” From Honaka’a we went several miles further down the road to the Waipio Valley lookout. Much like Pololu, which is two valleys further north, Waipio is a deep rift between steep forested ridges with a black sand beach stretching between the enclosing cliffs. Waipio is privately owned, although it is possible to hike or ride horses down into the valley itself. From the lookout we could see forest and grassland, and a few small cultivated plots with an occasional building here or there. A heavy mist hung over the valley, and rain was pouring in distant sheets over the ocean, catching the wan sunlight between watery veils.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Waipio Valley – Photo by Becca Tarnas

On the road back to Honaka’a the roadside was littered with bright yellow fallen guava fruits. I was determined to stop and pick some, but by the time I convinced Matt to stop by a guava tree we had passed all the ones whose branches were within reach. Alas, all the fruit available to me was past its prime rotting on the ground. Next time, I suppose. Very much craving dinner as we rolled back into Waimea, we chose to stop at the Red Water Café, recommended to us by several different family members. We arrived under an epic rainbow, the second we had seen so far on the trip. Red Water was delicious but a little expensive—arriving just in time for happy hour we shared Negihama sushi and a lilikoi yellow curry. The décor seemed to be a cross between Western saloon and sushi bar: truly a fusion, and fitting of the culture in Waimea.

Matt, my cousin, and I spent the next day completely melting into the sand at Mauna Lani Beach, known for its excellent snorkeling in its small protected bay. It’s a short walk in to the beach through a field of rough a’a lava with the openings to some lava tubes here and there. The path then winds around some brackish ponds with trees growing right out of the water and with moray eels peering eerily out from their rock homes. I recalled a startling encounter I had with a moray eleven years ago while snorkeling at this same beach and felt a little reluctant to enter the water again. The inverted teeth are less than friendly looking.

Photo by Matt Segall
Mauna Kea – Photo by Matt Segall

That evening Matt and I set off for an adventure we had both particularly been looking forward to: a night spent up on Mauna Kea at the Visitor Information Center, located at 9,200 feet elevation above the cloud line. The observatories at the summit are at 14,000 feet but it requires a four-wheel drive vehicle to manage the road so we settled for the lower station. We soon learned that 9,000 feet is actually the best elevation for humans to view stars because while the atmosphere is thinner at that height than lower elevations, any higher there is not enough oxygen for the human eye to function optimally.

Our plan was to arrive in time for sunset, but by the time we climbed the nearest hill with a view of the western horizon the Sun had just passed below the ocean rim. The colors were still spectacular, vermillion and rose bleeding into a darkening indigo sky. The crescent Moon hung high in the western sky, a clear white arc lit up on the edge of a darkened orb. As night descended stars emerged everywhere one turned, more clear and bright than I have seen anywhere else. Down by the visitor’s center a young student from the University of Hawaii guided us through a tour of the constellations, beginning with the Southern Cross, which cannot be viewed anywhere else in the United States except on the Big Island of Hawai’i. She then pointed out the constellation of Leo, descending toward the horizon. Near where the Sun had set a glow was still in the sky, although it was now long past sunset. We were told this was indeed the Sun’s light as it reflected on the accretion disc of our solar system, the remaining particles of dust that lie on the plane of the ecliptic.

We were led through all the constellations of the zodiac visible above the horizon in the summer sky, as well as several particularly prominent stars. Polaris, the north star, is visible at 19.5° above the horizon, indicating the latitude of the Big Island. We could see the bright blue-silver star Vega, and were told that due to the procession of the equinoxes Vega will be Earth’s north star in about 12,000 years. I recognized then that knowing the constellations of the night sky at a glance is something I would like to master. While it is not as easy to see the constellations while living in San Francisco, there are still places I can go that are not too far away where the stars are clearly visible. But it is difficult to find a stargazing platform that can rival the heights of Mauna Kea.

Photo by Matt Segall
Mauna Kea – Photo by Matt Segall

Because we just missed the sunset I had the thought we could sleep in our van right at the visitor’s center, and wake up in time to see the sunrise. So we spent the night at 9,000 feet, our first evening where the temperature was actually cool, awaiting the dawn. I’ve had an interesting experience with my dreams since coming to Hawai’i: each night we stayed in Waimea my dreams were incredibly violent in content, but when we slept on Mauna Kea my dreams changed completely. There was a majestic stillness; I dreamt mountain-consciousness and starlight. The experience was far beyond human. It was grandness, height, vastness. Stillness. Without an alarm I awoke as the sky was getting light, and woke Matt up so we could climb back up the nearby hill to see the Sun complete its night journey as it passed back above the horizon. The sky lightened slowly, reds and salmon-orange clouds streaking the yellowing sky. Behind us the shadow of Mauna Kea stretched over the plane below. The wind picked up in the moment before the Sun seemed to melt as fiery gold over the horizon. Awe. No wonder we are drawn to worship this life-giving orb of fire. The landscape all around awakened, golden light hitting the edges of the pu’us, the cinder cones, down the slopes of the mountain. At long last we left, having seen the Sun at last from the heights of Mauna Kea.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Mauna Kea – Photo by Becca Tarnas

Hawaii: A Waterfall of Stars

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Pololu Valley – Photo by Becca Tarnas

When you arrive on Hawaii by night your first impression is the stars. The land is dark and only instinct and memory remind you that the ocean is to your left as you travel north along the coast. Diamond stars bejewel the sky, the Milky Way a blazing band through the darkness. Our first night we were ushered into the welcoming arms of family, met at the airport with orchid leis, and brought to stay up in Waimea. It has been seven long years since I was last here, and for my partner Matt it is his first time on the island. We awoke the following morning to the sound of banana leaves rustling in the wind right outside our bedroom window, and our first meal was fresh papayas and apple-bananas from the grove my uncle has planted all around his house. I want our time here to be a drinking in of experience: of sights and sounds, tropical tastes and cultural variety, rich emotions and the beckoning call of the unexpected. I am open and ready for what this volcanic land has to teach us.

First thing in the morning one of my cousins came to meet us and take us to the Waimea Coffee Co. where we got to try White Mountain Kona Coffee—perhaps the most perfect coffee I have ever tasted, without a hint of acidity and thus requiring nothing to supplement its superbly smooth taste. No wonder it costs $58 a pound! Happily caffeinated, my cousin took us to our first beach visit of the trip, a secret little beach we had all to ourselves (except for the appearance of a spear-fishing octopus hunter who emerged in camouflaged gear from under the turquoise waters) a little ways off of Mau’u Mae Beach. Lying on that first beach I kept having to remind myself that there was nothing more that I had to do than just lie in the Sun, swim in the waters, and let go of all the planning and scheduling and millions of other thoughts that are always flying around my mind. Hawaii reminds you to release all agendas. And since it was our first day we figured we ought to go to a second beach, so we spent the later part of the afternoon at Anaeho’omalu Bay, watching the Sun and horizon slowly begin to approach one another as the wind picked up and whipped across the surface of the waves.

For our second full day another one of my cousins, who grew up here on Hawaii, brought us up over the hills behind Waimea over to Pololu Valley, one of the three valleys that extends like fingers from the north of the island toward the ocean. The beginning of our drive was through the dryer landscape of grasslands and sparse trees that extend north of Waimea, but as we descended down the further side of the hills the vegetation became richer and more lush, the grasses tall and the trees filled with colorful flowers and enormous tropical leaves. Streams ran through the small valleys at the turns in the road and banyan trees hung their curious roots in search of new fertile places to take hold. We drove through the small town of Kapa’au before arriving at the top of Pololu Valley. Gazing out over the ocean from the lip of the valley, seeing where the waves meet the base of plunging green cliffs and the mouths of black sand beaches, I felt like the beauty of it actually hurt when I tried to fully take it in. Wonder is too small a word to describe what I felt at this piercing intersection of beauties.

Photo by Matt Segall
Pololu Valley – Photo by Matt Segall

The three of us hiked down the steep, turning path into Pololu, past guava trees, flowering vegetation, and several towering trees bedecked with large yellow blossoms. At the floor of the valley the black sand beach gave way to stands of ironwood trees hung with rope swings, that felt like a tropical enchanted forest. The ground was covered in needles and soft green plants, and small crevasses at the base of some of the trees could easily pass for fairy doors. A stream ran out from the heart of the valley, and many different species of bird careened over the brackish waters and the marshy vegetation. After wandering on the beach and through the trees, swinging on the ropes and photographing the rock cairns piled precariously by the crashing waves, we re-ascended to the valley’s edge and bid farewell for now to Pololu. Hopefully we will be able to return to this area soon, to explore one of the other two valleys, Waimanu or Waipio, when the time is right.

69s Beach
Beach 69s – Photo by Matt Segall

On our way home we made a brief stop in the town of Hawi, to get ice cream cones at the local coffee shop. Not only am I trying to eat every tropical fruit I can get my hands on while here, but also macadamia nuts in as many culinary forms as possible—so while I tried the macadamia ice cream, Matt got the white chocolate ginger and my cousin got lemon cream. Why is eating one’s way through one’s travels so much fun? Each morning since coming here we have started our days with homegrown bananas and papayas, accompanied by mango and lychee, and toast with white kiawe honey from my uncle’s bees. And from there our days have unfolded with avocado salads and carrot-ginger juice at Lilikoi Café in Waimea, bi bim bop and Thai ice tea with coconut milk at the local farmers market, fresh poke (raw fish salad), fish tacos and margaritas at the Plantation Grill in Kawaihae, local ginger and coconut brews from the Big Island Brewhaus, and still I know each day will open up more culinary adventures.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Kawaihae Harbor Photo by Becca Tarnas

On our third day we spent the afternoon at a favorite beach for locals, known as 69s, that is shaded all along the shore by small groves of trees the grow right up to the water’s edge. Like in Pololu, rope swings hang from the branches, these swings right over the incoming surf. Before we knew it the day had passed us by, and we met up with my cousin and her boyfriend for dinner and sunset out at Kawaihae Harbor. The sunsets here have been beyond words, more colors than a painter could dream to mix in her pallet. One might say you could taste the sunset, it is so rich and complex.

I always say it is better to travel with locals because you get taken to the places a tourist would never imagine to go, or you can have free access to places a tourist would pay a fortune to visit. So we spent the rest of our night enjoying an epically beautiful swimming pool at one of the coastal hotel resorts, and soaking in a hot tub beneath a swath of stars that peaked through the shifting night fogs.

Photo by Matt Segall
The Waterfall – Photo by Matt Segall

We seem to be alternating each day between hiking and beach lounging, so yesterday one of my cousins, my cousin’s boyfriend, Matt and I hiked up above Waimea to a series of pools and waterfalls. After climbing through thick, spongy kikuyu grass we first went to one of the smaller swimming holes above the larger waterfall and swam through the cool red waters. Waimea means “red water” and we could clearly see why the town had been named for the waters that flow through this land. After a couple hours we went to the larger pond at the base of the tallest waterfall we encountered that day, a circular pool surrounded by grey lava rocks and an abundance of ginger plants. We watched as my cousin’s boyfriend climbed up the side of the waterfall and made the thirty foot jump into the waiting waters below. I didn’t feel I had it in me that day to try a similar jump, but perhaps I will work up the courage the next time we go here, or perhaps when we go to the cliffs down at South Point.

We have been here less than a week, and yet have already had the good fortune to have seen so much. And yet there is always so much more to see, so many places we still plan to go: Mauna Kea, Hilo, Volcano National Park, Puako, Hi’ilawe, Maui. . . So there will be more writings and photos to share, I promise.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

Sweet Sunset

Have you ever done yoga while a sheet of rain obliterates all visibility of the world around you? Or tasted drinking chocolate so rich and spicy that you would swear you are holding a melted bar of pure chocolate in the cup before you—or somehow been transported to the seductive marble counter of Vianne Rocher’s French-Mayan Chocolaterie? Or sat in a hot bath with crimson and peach rose petals strewn over the surface, the scents of jasmine and ylang ylang spiraling with the steam towards the ceiling, while bells toll the hour softly out the open window? This is just a taste of the joys I had the great privilege to experience in the second half of my visit to New Mexico, a week I am now looking back on with awe and gratitude for the level of both bliss and adventure I was able to experience.

Harp
Photo by Becca Tarnas

On the afternoon of the day I wrote my last post, I went with the friend I was staying with to pay a visit to an acquaintance of hers who is now a retired harp maker. His business was called Harps of Lorién, so I had a good feeling we would get along well. He had only kept two of his harps for himself—the last ones he made—and I had the great joy of being able to play them for a little while. The larger of the two harps had just under five octaves; a beautiful creation with a rich sound, especially in the upper register. The other harp was a lovely little lap harp with 27 strings, the kind I could easily imagine myself carrying on my back on some mythical adventure. Playing them I was reminded of a trilogy I recently read that a friend recommended to me: Riddle-Master by Patricia McKillip. The series is composed of three books, The Riddle-Master of HedHeir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist in the Wind. As one can imagine from the final book title, harps play a significant role in the unfolding of this story.

From harps we moved on to chocolate, a transition no one I know could complain of. I was brought to the Kakáwa Chocolate House where we were greeted with an extensive menu of both European and Meso-American drinking chocolates. After tasting several different samples I settled on the Chile Chocolate, which was made of 100% chocolate, coconut sugar, chile, and Mexican vanilla. The thick liquid was both sweet and spicy, rich and rounded, calming and awakening. It was, to say the least, amazing. Truly an extravagance.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

Our evening plans brought us into central Santa Fe where we had dinner at a restaurant called Blue Corn, followed by drinks at a nearby bar called Thunderbird. My astrological twin and I, of course, ordered the same drink, a cocktail of vodka and crisp pear. Our parallels no longer surprised us, especially when it was something as simple as choosing a drink, or wearing identical socks or pants. Our differences were becoming far more interesting to discover and explore.

The following day, Sunday, my friend and I went back to the land in Glorietta to hike around the area where she and her partner are building their home. The day was cooler than when we were up there on July 4th, or perhaps I was just becoming acclimated to the altitude and desert sun. Clouds were gathering on the edges of the horizon but we still baked under the clear blue of the sky directly over our heads. Walking through the forest of ponderosa pine and cedar I started to notice a distinct smell that would hit me every so often, almost like kaffir lime leaves. What was an essential ingredient of Thai food doing out here? Finally, when I smelled the scent again I stopped and looked all around me, making note of any different plants that might be nearby. To my right was a low tree with gnarled bark and pointed, needle-like leaves. Silver-green berries grew in clusters between the leaves. I took a step closer, realizing the kaffir smell came from this tree. A juniper. I never would have guessed the two smells would be so similar except through this accidental discovery.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

Passing under the eaves of this sparse forest we walked out into an open meadow, a long, snaking expanse of shrub-covered ground that formed a valley between two wooded hills. Gazing overhead we saw a hawk soaring, a local inhabitant my friend recognized because of the distinctive missing feather she had in one of her wings. We climbed up one of the hills to look back down on the meadow we had just crossed. Directly opposite on the hill facing us, at a point not much higher than where we stood, the dark entrance of a cave was just visible between the trees. My friend speculated that this cave might be the home of the hawk that was still circling above us, although she was not sure.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

After returning to downtown Santa Fe, I spent the rest of the afternoon on a quiet meander through the town’s streets, pausing at the stalls of artists and vendors, admiring the bright silver and turquoise that was a prominent theme of the jewelry for sale here. The clouds continued to gather in the sky, making their way towards the town, their dark underbellies heavy with rain. Finding myself in the grassy plaza I sat beneath a tree and took out my watercolors to begin painting a scene I had been holding in my mind since that morning.

The sunset that night was so brilliant—an explosion of bleeding vermillions and reds, rosy oranges and deep purples—that no photo could even begin to capture it. I sometimes wish I could bring a painting forth all in an instant, the colors pouring from my open imagination directly onto the page. But the exact wash of that particular sunset, the ways its unique colors flowed together and blended, is fading from my memory with as much certainty as it faded from that night sky.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

In many ways I feel my time in New Mexico was like that sunset: so beautiful and profound, surprising and unexpected, a crescendo of connection and experience. Returning to the grey fogs of San Francisco felt a little like a shock, the stark white of the sky such a contrast to the desert colors I still held within me, memories like precious gems, each expressing different emotions through their dynamic colors. My astrological twin and I are two Sagittarians who walked together down a spiraling path of an eternally growing checklist of activities: from baking cookies and pumpkin pie to turning our toenails into artistic canvases; from sampling at a delicious gluten-free bakery to a morning of pampering at the spa; from astrological readings and healing massages to crafting beautiful gift collages; from deep conversations and gorgeous laughter to the freedom of just being utterly silly. So much of what happened during my week in New Mexico was so simple, an extended playdate between two sisters, butterfly twins who had somehow only recently met—at least in this lifetime.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Collage for the Dusk Twin
Photo by Becca Tarnas
Collage for the Dawn Twin

The Dynamism of New Mexico’s Skies

New Mexico has always called me, yet somehow this is my first time here. I came to Santa Fe seeking an adventure, and also the companionship of a new yet dear friend, someone who happens to be my astrological twin. It is a strange, amazing experience to find someone whose life seems to be a synchronicity with your own, from the profound to the mundane: from taking nearly the same picture at the same time in separate places, to owning the exact same dress given to us by our mothers, to having parallel life-transforming experiences at the same time. As we spend each day talking and sharing our lives, I find myself at this point more surprised by the differences than the similarities.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

Flying out of San Francisco, as I did a few days ago, I always find thrilling, perhaps because the plane rises first over the turquoise waters of the Bay and for a moment no land is visible from the tiny window. As the plane arcs over San Francisco I am always surprised at how compact and familiar the seven-by-seven miles of my home city are, how easily I can recognize the contours and shapes of the cityscape. The ragged edges of the retreating fog I see have left my home in summer sunlight. The line of fog continues along the coast as far as the eye can see. Turning inland the landscape rapidly becomes the dry reds, yellows, and browns of a water-starved world. Checkerboards of farmland dominate the landscape, then give way to the tangle of hills and mountains. Further east the mountains are dotted with the dark of sparse tree cover. The occasional vein of snow lies in a forgotten alpine crevice. Then clouds roll in below us and the white is blinding. I retreat into Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

I arrived in Albuquerque and my friend and I drove north through the hilly desert landscape to Santa Fe and her beautiful home. The day unfolded idyllically, with yoga to shake off the air travel and a home-made dinner with kale, beat greens, and lettuce we harvested right from the garden outside. The rains started as we were eating, and our desert was a magnificent double rainbow arching across the sky. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. We went for a walk in a nearby park that is a prairie dog sanctuary where we traversed the spiraling path of a labyrinth crafted right out of the red soil, almost like it was part of the landscape. A single tree grew out from near the labyrinth’s center. To my amazement, this was the third completely unique labyrinth I had seen since arriving here.

July 4th, or Interdependence Day as the morning’s yoga teacher renamed it, we spent out in Glorietta on the land where my friend her partner are in the process of building their own sustainably constructed home. The area is forested but not densely; the hot sunshine easily passes through the pine and cedar leaves and branches to bake the red clay below. We walked up to view the deep hole in which they will soon put their home’s foundation. The house will be set beneath a towering ponderosa pine that seems to reign over the area. A small garden is thriving with squash and bean plants that have happily taken to the soil in this isolated location.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

A group of us, with members coming and going all day, spent the afternoon by a lovely swimming hole dug on a communal part of the property. A barbecue was burning most of the day by the waterside, and the food table was overflowing with abundance. The pond was a cooling relief as the day seemed to get hotter and hotter. Thick, lush grasses line the edge of the pond and the soft mud at the pool’s bottom is as gentle as a spa treatment. We swam and floated while a flock of swallows soared and darted overhead, occasionally diving down to the water’s surface for a drink or a bath. Staring up into the clear blue of the sky I felt a great sense of peace, watching the birds weaving their invisible wild weft overhead.

The blue stillness of the sky gave way to a live painting of dynamic clouds, shifting and turning over each other, changing shape and color by the moment. The day cooled into evening as the Earth turned away from the fiery Sun that defines the desert days, concealing it behind a stand of trees on the western hills. The twilight air took on shades of rose and violet, and a deep indigo spread out like ink on wet paper from the zenith of the sky.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

The following day, my friend and I made a road trip up to Taos, which I had been told by several people I had to see if given the opportunity. On the drive we passed a camel shaped rock, open fields with horses, red and gold desert plains, rising mountains, a wide winding stream. I really began to feel the magic of New Mexico, something that seems to spring from the alchemical mixing of the red land with the dynamism of the skies.

Taos is enchanting, its adobe style buildings the same colors as the landscape, with overflowing planters of flowers hanging from the wooden eaves surrounding the plaza in the town’s center. Artists’ tents were set up in the plaza where jewelry, pottery, and paintings were displayed. We wandered for some time, stopping here and there, following the shade from place to place. We had a long lunch at a restaurant off the plaza called G, where we split huevos rancheros and blue cornmeal blueberry pancakes. I don’t know if I could ever get tired of the flavors of New Mexico, the green chile that graces most dishes.

The clouds gathered in the sky and heavy drops began to descend as we left downtown Taos and headed west to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. As the two of us walked out onto the bridge the winds were so strong we had to hold onto the railing to not be blown off the sidewalk. The wind was powerful enough that it could even flutter my eyelids, holding them open to the spectacular view before me. The Rio Grande Gorge is a tectonic chasm yawning 800 feet below the slender span of the bridge on which we stood. The reddish-brown cliffs, dark in the stormy light, descended to a seemingly narrow river of silver-white waters. Lightning flashed in the distance illuminating looming, dark mountains while clouds raced like chariots across the sky. In this setting, the gorge looked less like it had been worn down over millennia by the perpetual flow of the river, but rather like it had been cloven by one of the mighty lightning flashes splitting the sky asunder.

Rio Grande Gorge
Photo by Becca Tarnas

Overpowered by the wind we retreated to the car just as the rain began to fall in earnest. Taking a winding route we searched for the Hanuman Temple that was located somewhere in the lush green valley between the gorge and downtown Taos. Our many mistaken turns, caused by a lack of street signs and a hilariously mis-proportioned hand-drawn map, took us past green fields and farms, some with horses and foals, others with herds of black cattle. The adobe houses looked almost as though they had arisen from the landscape itself, so well did they blend in. At last, just as we were giving up on the idea of finding the temple, the elusive road appeared to us and we drove up to an exquisite cluster of hand-built structures surrounded by an abundance of flowering gardens.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

Walking through the rain on a narrow path beneath plum and apple trees, we entered the Hanuman Temple where a brief ceremony was about to begin. A resident stepped forward to orient us, offering food and chai and the opportunity to explore the grounds. As singing swelled from the inner sanctum of the temple, we returned outside with chai in hand to see the open grassy fields and vegetable gardens. The land was amazingly lush compared to everywhere else I had seen so far in New Mexico. Following a strange bird call we found ourselves by a large sanctuary housing four peacocks. A tree grew in the center of the structure, and perched near the top was a large male whose magnificent tail feathers cascaded down the trunk. The smaller females were perched elsewhere around the sanctuary, or wandered along the ground below paying little attention to our presence.

We departed from the temple as late afternoon faded into early evening and made the drive back south to Santa Fe, all the while exchanging more parallel stories of our lives. The molten gold of the setting sun broke through the cloud cover creating a double rainbow that led us all the way home, its colored arches forming a gateway that we always seemed about to pass under, only to find it had once again retreated from our grasp.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

And Back Again

Thus it ends…

Photo by Becca Tarnas

I never imagined that I would know what it was like to be in a car for 1,095 miles straight, but now that I do I hope not to have to experience it again. Perhaps it was the two full days rest in Aspen, or just a strong desire to be back in our own home by the Bay nestled beneath our blanket of fog, but come Wednesday morning Matt and I decided to drive all the way home in one long shift. Or rather, we decided to keep the option open, in case we arrived at the campground in Austin, Nevada with enough energy and daylight hours to keep going to the coast.

The two whole days in Aspen were worth the trip itself, even if we hadn’t had all the other adventures and wonderful encounters along the way. There is something about Aspen that makes one feel as though one has stepped into a painting, like the moment Robin Williams arrives in heaven in the film What Dreams May Come. Everything is too perfect, each blade of grass arranged in just such a way as to set off the seemingly carefully placed rocks beneath the snowy white trunks of the aspen trees. The towering mountains with their rouge and evergreen flanks are dwarfed only by the vast sky, with its many hued cloud formations sculpted by a divine breath. We went on a brief hike the first day there, noticing the lupines and wild geraniums peering out among the grasses. Like the rest of the country, Aspen has also suffered drought this summer, which could be seen in the reddish dust that is usually moist soil. The wildflowers too were sparse this year; normally the mountains are garlanded in purple and yellow blossoms all throughout June and July.

The town of Aspen is as picturesque as the wild scenery, with quaint little houses surrounded by blossoming flower gardens, and old brick buildings with former store names carved into the very stonework overhanging the doors. The streets are all named after the miners who first settled the area. The design of the town reflects the natural surroundings, bringing aspen trees onto many of the sidewalks, even allowing them to grow through the center of the architecture in some cases. Strips of grass and fountains border the cobblestone streets, and narrow streams meander between the grassy banks and laugh their way over smooth river stones arranged beneath the clear ripples.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

On our second day in Aspen we attended a concert put on by the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen. The orchestra, which gives young conductors the opportunity to learn their craft with the help of a full orchestra at their disposal, played three symphonies over the course of the afternoon, beginning with Haydn’s Symphony No. 85 in D major, written in 1786. This was followed by Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, written in 1775 when Mozart was only nineteen years old. The solo violinist for this piece, Hannah Tarley, has been playing since she was two years old, and was the youngest violinist to lead the San Francisco Youth Symphony on tour. She played, to say the least, exquisitely. After an intermission, the final symphony of the day was Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 in E-flat major, written in 1945; however, we only heard the ending of this piece because we chose to take a stroll through the gardens of the Aspen Institute while the afternoon sun was still warm.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

It was with some reluctance that we packed up the car for the last time and bid adieu to Aspen and its fluttering silver-green leaves and crystal streams. We headed west toward Glendale where we went back onto I-70. The mountainsides turned a sunburnt red, and each peak looked like a scalp with thinning tree hair that had spent too much time exposed to the sunlight. As we passed Mount Sopris I was already beginning to observe the much drier climate. A magpie, with its black and white wings, soared over the road. As we passed through Glendale I noticed a crew of carrion birds circling ominously over the town.

As the mountains around us became more angular and treeless, we listened to a debate between Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury. I was amazed to hear the sense of wonder in Dawkins’ voice as he described the unfolding of the universe and how it could give rise to “apparently purposeful” beings such as ourselves, that give the cosmos the “illusion of design.” This dialogue accompanied us for more than half of the day’s journey because occasionally it would cut out and we would switch to music, then try again an hour or two later. Because of this, the debate seemed to set the tone for much of the ride, giving rise to many exciting discussions between Matt and myself, including one regarding the language and cultures of animals, and whether or not they can be understood from a human perspective; if they cannot, as far as I see it, that is not proof that animals or even plants, cells, or minerals, do not have the same capacity for language, culture or spirituality that we do. It may, at this point, just not be able to be translated into something humanity can comprehend.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

Our road followed the Colorado River for some time, and I marveled how this one river had been able to overcome these mountains surrounding us, carving such wonders as the Grand Canyon, and yet it could not—as of yet—overcome humanity, who has dammed it and siphoned off its waters until barely a trickle remains to empty into the Sea of Cortez. Eventually we left the Colorado River behind, and passed through Rabbit Valley and a park offering a Trail Through Time walk. As we crossed the border into Utah a signpost stood by the road warning of eagles on the highway, definitely the strangest of the many animal warning signs we saw over the rest of the day: moose, deer, cows, and hikers all had their own specific warning signs in different mountain areas.

The buttes and plateaus shifted into greener mountains and short trees as we entered Fishlake National Forest. To the side of the road I saw several cows and calves among the greenery, and past them a wood and metal fence climbing at nearly a 90° angle up a mountainside. Imagine the determination of the rancher who had put up that fencing, not wanting to lose a single acre of his property no matter how steep the terrain.

Mysterious train tunnels once again bored through the mountainsides as we neared Salina, Utah. Past the town flat green fields unfolded for several miles, dotted with horses along a placid blue lakeshore. Eventually we left I-70 and began the long journey upon the loneliest road in the West, US 50. Barely a car passed us. The fences by the roadside were constructed with rough-hewn branches, making the era we traveled through ambiguous. A neat little farm stood by the road named Duckworth Dairy. Eventually we entered the town of Delta, Utah, where a tiny wooden shack was featured in the central square: the very first house ever built in Delta. The house was smaller than a modest bedroom.

Outside Delta we passed a tree completely ornamented with dozens upon dozens of pairs of shoes. I once heard that a pair of shoes tossed over a power line means “I love you.” If that is the case this is the most loved tree I had ever seen, even if not a single leaf graced its branches.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

Highway 50 went on straight for seemingly endless hours, with only an occasional crossroad going just as eternally straight in the opposite direction. We saw hardly anyone. We crossed over a snow white salt plain, passed Death Canyon, and entered into a new set of mountains. At some point we crossed into Nevada but it was hard to tell where. Our road less traveled was not busy enough to bother marking the state border. The landscape of Nevada seemed to be a repeating pattern of flat plain followed by a mountain ridge, then flat plain, mountain ridge, flat plain, mountain ridge. It was difficult to keep track, except by the changing names of the different national parks: Great Basin National Park, Humboldt State Park. A ranch in one of the mountain ranges had an entrance gate made entirely of bleached white antlers. Not long after we glimpsed a fence decorated in deer antlers. The deer population in that area must be abundant indeed.

The largest town we saw on 50 was Ely, which boasted six churches on a sign at its entrance. From the size of the town there must be one church for every family. Some time after we had left Ely we came to the next largest town along the highway, Austin, where we had intended to camp. At this point it was only 5:30 pm, and with barely a consultation Matt and I decided we wanted to continue all the way home to San Francisco. So with 702 miles already under our belts we left Austen behind to complete the next 391 miles to the end of the continent.

The light slowly grew dimmer and fantastic sunset colors streaked the sky. Since we were driving westward the twilight seemed prolonged for many hours. We passed Sand Mountain, a large sand dune set back from the road, glowing white against the dark backdrop of the distant mountains. The last of the light began to fade as we left Carson City, and the last sight I saw before nightfall was a sign for the Old Pony Express trail. Then, in the still darkness, we entered California and began to climb into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Immediately I wished we were passing through here in daylight, and I longed to see the trees, lakes, and mountains that were now shrouded in darkness.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

The backroad route we had inadvertently chosen to take provided a stressful 70 miles of watching for deer potentially leaping into the road. In total we saw five deer, two coyotes, and a bobcat. The bobcat, standing directly in the center of the road, seemed not in the least disturbed by our car, and gently pawed its way off the road at its own sweet pace. When we passed where it had exited moments later, it was already swallowed up in the camouflaged gloom of the forest.

The last couple hours of the ride were the most difficult of the entire trip. Both Matt and I were questioning our decision to go 1,100 miles in one day. But somehow, close to 1:00 am, we arrived on our own familiar street, where parking is still familiarly difficult, and at last were able to be home.

So in total, after 110 hours of driving, 6,700 miles, 20 states, one province, dozens of family members and friends, and not a single argument, Matt and I ended our rather epic journey. As for the next one, who can say?

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

Slow Drought, Rapid Ascent

One thousand, four hundred miles in two days, from the rolling wooded hills of Ohio, through the dry tabletop flatland of Kansas, deep into the rapid ascent of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Matt has been a heroic driver. And because of the exhaustion of such an expedition, we have decided to spend an extra day in the idyllic beauty of Aspen, enjoying the sight of high green and red mountaintops, fluttering aspen leaves, and glittering hummingbirds feeding outside the window.

The much-needed rain began to descend as we departed Cincinnati Saturday morning, and we were met with a sudden downpour and pools of water on the poorly constructed Ohio highways. Traffic slowed immediately to a crawl as we appeared to be going through a car wash machine without soap. Soon, however, we left the shadow of the rain clouds and entered drier land. Meanwhile a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Reverend Al Sharpton, over the existence of God and the need or lack for religion, played out on the speakers. At many times they seemed to be having parallel but separate arguments, Hitchens focusing on the evils of religious interpretations, and Sharpton pushing the issue of the existence of God without religious trappings, a point which Hitchens seemed to generally avoid. From there we turned our attention to a lecture given by Chris Hedges, not to be in any way confused with Hitchens, who spoke of religious fundamentalism, the Christian Right in America, the economic despair that drives people to such extremist faith, and the “epistemology of television” which suppresses critical thinking. With his words reverberating in the car we passed large crucifixes in the cornfields, anti-abortion posters, and billboards with images of a pale white, effeminate Jesus blessing the drivers of I-70.

While passing through Indiana we listened to a rousing talk by Helen Caldecott given in 1982 on the threats of nuclear war; she drew an analogy between the state of our planet and the plight of a terminally ill cancer patient. The horrific images she painted of nuclear war, and the insanity that the governments who build these weapons have not thought of the ultimate consequences of their use, reminds me of the same delusional denial the world’s leaders take in regard to climate change and the ecological crisis. We stopped briefly at a gas station where I saw a woman dressed as a clown filling up her car—a perfect image to capture the direction in which this country is going. Not long after, we passed for the second time on this trip a concrete cross at least ten stories high, towering over the yellow straw of drought-ridden, eroded agricultural fields on the edge of desertification.

Matt and I returned to Lake Quivira near Kansas City for the night, the place we stayed ten days before on our outward journey. Early the next morning, we left the comforts of a familiar place to embark on the longest stretch of the entire trip: 782 miles from the eastern edge of Kansas up into the Rockies to Aspen, Colorado. Although we crossed just two states, unlike the day before when we had traversed five, the day totaled thirteen hours of driving.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

The long expanse of Kansas proved to be flatter than a pancake, with the largest fields of wheat and corn I have ever seen. It felt like an alien landscape, with a mile of corn suddenly giving way to gray dirt and clumps of yellow grass as suddenly as if a wall had been built to separate the two. The highest objects in sight for hours were the plastic signs advertising fast food joints and gas stations. Occasionally a stream would meander over the land, and an oasis of green followed the track of the water. When there was variation in the topography the road would occasionally dip into a cut in the soil, revealing red and white striations of earth layered like a cake beneath dry grass icing. Our own oasis was provided by a set of tapes recorded in 1992 of Robert McDermott, who gave a lecture series on spiritual masters while he was president of the California Institute of Integral Studies. We heard the first three of those lectures, on Martin Buber, C.G. Jung, and Simone Weil.

After leaving behind us the Oz Winery, a massive wind farm of white turbines, and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, we entered the tiny town of Hays and knew we needed to stop for lunch. It was 106°. As Matt put it, it felt like a breeze blowing straight out of Hell. It was not hard to believe the large billboard we had seen earlier that stated “Hell Is Real.” Hell is the havoc we have wrecked on the climate that is producing this massive drought and soaring temperatures. The small oil wells we had seen along the roadside, pumping oil up out of the barren fields, seemed like some kind of a mockery of the weather.

As we entered Hays I could not help but wonder what life was like in this small town. What is the primary form of income? What makes people happy? What do they dream about? To our delight we found a local brewery called Gella’s Liquid Bread, and were able to sample their award-winning oatmeal stout and American wheat ale with our afternoon meal. Here certainly was one expression of creativity in the town of Hays.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

Hours after lunch was digested we crossed the chalky Colorado border. Feral sunflowers grew by the sides of the highway. Black calves followed their mothers through fields. Train tracks led to nowhere. Small houses from a bygone era stood alone, each with their own forgotten history. Who had once settled this piece of land in the name of freedom, so many decades ago? Still the land was flat.

Then, in the far western distance, clouds began to gather. A deep azure shadow blurred the once clear edge of the horizon. Rays of sunlight cut through the clouds to illuminate the land. Planes trafficked the air, criss-crossing the skies. Denver. A city, trees, hills, mountains, then thunderheads, each layered against the next. In a matter of minutes the plains were a mere memory.

I can barely begin to describe the feeling of ascending into the Rocky Mountains after hours upon hours and miles upon miles of flat grassland. It is like drinking in the sweetest draughts of color and texture, light and shadow, like paintings unfolding beneath the artist’s wrist of the Divine. The rapid incline was accompanied by flourishing conifers and carved red boulders. The foothills grow into mountains like seedlings into trees, children into adults. These ancient mountains are decaying; after millennia of shooting skyward with the pressure of tectonic upheaval, they now are slowly crumbling, their peaks rounding and smoothing under the centuries of rain and snowfall. Yet still they are great majesties.

It began to rain. Sunlight seared through the falling water creating a world of white and platinum, the road and trees cast silver in the shifting light. A tumbling river tore through the rock on the left of the road, sparkling in the sun’s rays. Then, without warning, we left the shadow of the rainstorm and entered a dry realm higher still. Red barns and soft meadows, indigo lakes and laughing streams. We crested over a pass between the mountains, then descended into a wide grassy plain, the High Plains filled with horses and foals, likely an ancient lakebed drained long ago. I saw a highland cow, a red, long haired, horned creature I had only ever seen in the Scottish Highlands. Yet here one was in the Rockies. We were taking an alternate route, along highway 285, because there was a sink hole in the usual road to Aspen on 24. Though it was 25 miles longer, we would never have encountered the High Plains if we had gone the normal route.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

After the plains we passed the town of Buena Vista, and saw several signs protesting a Colorado Springs plan to dam this valley for a reservoir. It was hard to imagine these canyons and valleys sunk below placid waves, a lake that would most likely surrender to silt build-up in less than a century. Our route turned on to 82, and we circled a still, blue lake, reflecting the high peaks in exact mirror image. The road climbed ever higher, making sharp turns on the mountain’s face, leaving the bottoms of my feet with that hollow tickle that accompanies a slight fear of heights. The evening sun rises and sets constantly in the mountains as new views open beyond each passing peak. Yet at last it set for good, and our road became ever dimmer.

Finally, no more mountains obstructed our view and we rose above the world at Independence Pass. We stepped into the crystal air at 12,095 feet. Immediately we were short of breath as we walked about a glass pool reflecting the dusk sky, the tundra foliage bedecked in miniscule wildflowers. The descent into Aspen grew ever darker, and the road twisted and turned beneath overhanging rocks and aspen branches. Moths flew continuously into our headlights. Then, out of nowhere, a pale brown bunny leapt into our path, so close to the car there was literally no way to avoid it. We hit it instantly and I prayed it had died quickly. I cried all the way into Aspen. There was literally nothing we could have done, yet I could find no way to justify it. I have seen many things on this trip that humanity cannot justify, and this one act I felt so personally.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

Rarely have I felt the kind of exhaustion we both felt upon arrival in Matt’s aunt’s beautiful home, decorated with exquisite relics from her world travels. We ate peaches and cherries, a sweet relief from American road trip food. I long to go on the kinds of adventures that I see captured as memories in every part of this house. But for now, my only adventure will be into the dreamworld of sleep.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

The Lone Bald Eagle

My friends who Matt and I stayed with in Whately, Massachusetts are wildlife rehabilitators, which means that whenever someone in their area finds a wounded creature or abandoned baby animal it is brought to them for care and feeding until the animal is able to be released into the wild to survive on its own. While our friends care for hundreds of baby rabbits, squirrels, mice, and songbirds over the course of the season, we were able to distantly interact with just a few, but it was a special experience indeed. Matt and I were each able to feed a cherry to two orphaned baby squirrels, who are at this age about the size of chipmunks and only have skinny tufts on their tails, unlike the full-grown fluffy adornment that they will some day grow into. We would not be able to handle any animals that had been in rehabilitative care, but since the squirrels were just arriving we could have some contact with these delightful little beings, and they were comforted in their transition by our care.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

From a distance we were also able to see a wounded kingfisher, likely hit by a car, who adored eating minnows caught for her from the stream; one of two fledgling starlings in their care; a baby meadow jumping mouse; and a beautiful baby hawk whose soft down was being exchanged for adult feathers. Although we had the shortest glimpse of the hawk, who was not to become accustomed to human contact, it was like looking at a miniature version of majesty, a young prince who, if he survives, will one day hunt the skies.

My dear friends who do this work, a mother and her daughter, are like real life Snow Whites who truly work magic to heal these creatures. When we arrived the day before, the mother, who I have known since I was four years old, was wearing a full length white summer dress and crooning to one of the birds in her care. A perfect Snow White indeed.

After fresh corn fritters and fruit smoothies, coconut balls and a swift chiropractic treatment, Matt and I knew we would have to depart this haven of nurturance and love to continue our journey, despite having to pass up a dip in the nearby Fairy Pond. Every visit leaves more to be desired, and a laying out of new plans for future visits we hope some day to make. Our route to Matt’s older brother’s home in New Jersey led us through Connecticut and New York State, passing within sight of Manhattan before turning into Livingston, New Jersey. For the entirety of the 193 mile trip I felt myself caught up in a daze, unable to focus too much on the road, but rather looking more at the mottled clouds of the sky and the thick green foliage of a New England summer. The dynamic clouds suddenly broke open and a downpour of rain splashed over the road in pink and blue reflections. Then, just as suddenly as it began, the rain dried up and retreated, leaving no trace of the brief deluge.

Traffic condensed more and more thickly as we neared New York City and the leafy branches overhanging the road gave way to the urban tangle of steel, wires, crumbling brick stamped with curling painted letters from 1930s advertisements for Coca Cola and soda crackers. Perhaps because it is so hideous, it is easy to romanticize the graffiti, the stains, the gray rivers choked with steel bridges, giving rise to a vision like Rent, with youth and creativity bursting forth from the pressure cooker of poverty, hunger, disease, crowds, and pure strains of human emotion and love. Above it all, the pastel clouds were rent with blades of sunlight piercing to earth, looking like prayer posters of God speaking to the decrepit masses below. As Matt said, maybe it’s the Divine apologizing for the Industrial Revolution.

Matt and I spent the night with Matt’s brother, his wife, and two young children in a nearby New Jersey suburb, the kind of suburb with rolling lawns, a pool in every backyard, and belts of trees between the streets to help dampen the sound of city traffic from the surrounding highways. We were a fifteen minute drive from the heart of Manhattan. Our overnight stay was brief though, because we had to make the 635 mile journey back to Cincinnati, and we were on the road by 9:00 am. While there has still been warm summer weather, the unbearable temperatures we experienced last week seem to be receding, and we have been enjoying days in the low 80° range.

Our route from New Jersey to Cincinnati crossed the great width of Pennsylvania, which had similar topography to upstate New York: wooded mountains spaced widely apart which afforded expansive views before descending into new farmland valleys. This terrain and that of the prior day reminded me of a trip I took four years ago, when I biked with a friend from Mount Holyoke College to Philadelphia over eight days. On that journey we biked from Massachusetts through Connecticut, crossed the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie, ran along the edge of the Delaware Water Gap, and finally arrived in Philadelphia, where my second-hand bike, incidentally, was stolen. Meanwhile, back on this road trip, I recognized signs for different landmarks that I had seen at a much slower pace four years ago.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

Matt’s and my discussion came to the difference between environment and ecology, and our need to understand our embeddedness in the environment, as a part of an ecosystem, to be able to make the psychological leap required to address the current ecological crisis. I began reading Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth the other night, which presents the statistics of the effects of global warming currently taking place. This is no longer a discussion of what might happen, but what is happening. The new question is, how will we cope with the changes? How can we prevent them from being even worse than they are? These are the questions that are essential, that I feel the need to devote my life to understanding.

We listened to several lectures by Timothy Morton on just this topic, in which he addresses the question of what nature is. It is not something that is “out there” but rather something we are, and something of which we are a part. Where do we see nature? If nature is not the forests, streams, and mountains that we pass by the roadside, is it also the road itself, and us and the cars upon it? Morton addresses the issue that global warming is so difficult to face because it is so huge, yet still able to be quantified. It is a problem the size of the Earth, but not bigger. We are trapped inside it. We are inside a womb that we have poisoned, and we cannot blame anyone besides ourselves for its toxicity. It is humiliating. And as Morton points out, the word “humiliating” comes from the word “humus,” meaning soil. To be humiliated is to come closer to the Earth. In our humiliation we must come closer to the Earth to learn how to be born out of our womb and into a cleaner world of our own making. But we must go through the birth canal first.

As we were hearing Morton’s words and I was having these thoughts, a bird passed overhead that I have never seen in this country: a bald eagle. While I have seen dozens of eagles in British Columbia I had never before seen one in the country that claims it as its national bird, as its symbol. What does it mean that we can barely keep our own symbol alive in supposedly the most powerful country in the world? What does it mean that I just saw one overhead? Perhaps, both literally and figuratively, to survive the constriction of the ecological crisis we have to become wildlife rehabilitators, just like my friends in New England.

Photo by Becca Tarnas

In the late afternoon we passed into the stethoscope of West Virginia, a narrow section wedged between Pennsylvania and Ohio. The valleys and rivers became steeper and more plunging, and traffic slowed as we crossed a green metal bridge over the Ohio River. Not long after this crossing we saw smoke rising out of the woods to the left of the road, possibly a forest fire due to the nationwide droughts this summer. A couple hours later, as we were honing in on Cincinnati, the fiery orb of the sun could be seen setting, a vermillion star blazing through a rose and tangerine sky.