On Saturday, July 11, my husband drove us to Bryce City/Rubys Inn, Utah, which is a teeny outpost just north of Bryce Canyon National Park. We spent Sunday in the park, hiking and gazing at hoodoos.
The park has a main road that leads to the highest point, an overlook called Rainbow Point, with an elevation of 9,115 feet (close to the elevation of Silverton, Colorado, which is at 9,318 feet).
The overlook at Rainbow Point was a chilly place, and very windy — I had a jacket on, and shorts, and just wanted to jump back in the car. Because I’m a wuss, of course.
So Greg and I hopped in the car and drove back toward the entrance (which has an elevation somewhere around 7,000 feet), and we stopped at each of the pullouts along the way.
We were blessed with a beautiful sunny day, which made the rock and pine especially beautiful in pictures. Here is Agua Canyon —
This picture below is called “Natural Bridge” even though it is really an arch —
I kept thinking of one of my main characters in Mark of the Pterren, a young girl named Arren, flying down the cliffside and swooping through this arch, laughing away with another character in a happy moment of exploration and friendship. The predominate image of her was age eleven though, older than she is in the first pterren book.
I had another character on my mind a lot, too, from my work in progress. Rowan Zroba, who is a mer-person.
My mind was on ancient seas, and ancient lakes, and I often pictured all of these formations under saltwater. (And this land once was underwater, which makes imagining this even easier.)
I tried to tell Greg about all the things on my mind, especially my book characters and how Rowan would swim and weave through these beautiful hoodoos —
But Greg was in a really foul mood. Which he blamed on me. Because he brought my hiking boots, but I preferred to wear my Keen sandals to “hike” in (and I use the quote marks because our “hike” was really a “walk on a wide, clear path with some elevation change”). We hiked the Queen’s Garden trail, and part of the Navajo Loop, exiting the trail through a narrow canyon called “Wall Street” (which wore Greg out!).
My willful “lack of care” with my health and safety had Greg all wound up, and he gets in a black mood in which it’s easy to forget that his anger is love, convoluted. There was no way for me to change his attitude, as I saw no reason to wear hot, heavy hiking boots for a non-strenuous walk through part of a canyon. Just look at how gradual and flat the Queen’s Garden trail is —
No way does that path necessitate hiking boots.
I also refused to “carry a coat” with me, just a long-sleeve shirt in my day pack, and Greg thought this was also an outrageous risk. The hiking trails are at a much lower elevation than Rainbow Point, and this was July 12, and the day was hot.
My favorite view of the day was the overlook of Paria Plateau (pictured below), I could just stare at this photo forever —
I felt a great deal of peace standing there, and feel peace just gazing at this digital image.
On the hike, this tree made me think of an octopus —
I don’t see a root ball, but a mantle and arms — and since Greg made it clear he didn’t want to hear about octopuses, mer-people, pterren, or plot ideas, and I didn’t have a computer to type on, my brain had a weird fizzle through the whole hike. My husband doesn’t realize the extent his bad moods can jam up the flow of a day, though I do realize his anger was not necessarily directed at me, but at things I can only guess at. Existential stuff, life, aging, mortality — the big, seemingly wordless terrors that can swoop down and grip us and render even the most cheerful optimist into a firey biped of frustration from time to time.
Or so I explained this mood to myself, anyway, since I am relegated to silence and DON’T TALK TO ME when Greg falls into one of his pits. I feel my neurons all misfire when that happens, when I want to share things and talk and make connections between patterns I see, but I’m not allowed to verbalize anything because my husband is MAD that I am wearing sandals.
But I wanted to see Bryce Canyon, and he took me there for that reason, and I love him, and sometimes marriage is loving someone who is in a foul mood because you’re wearing sandals.
Here is a picture of Greg with a raven, before we started our hike —
Ravens are so totally awesome. There’s a book called Mind of the Raven, by Bernd Heinrich, I really want to read. Books about animals rock my world.
I also saw this antelope with her twin fawns —
They were really adorable!
And after we finished our climb out of Wall Street (when the smooth gravel path switchbacked up a few hundred feet pretty quickly) Greg’s mood lightened and he stopped being a grump and became the sort of solicitous, “whatever you want, just ask” kind of person who was up for a picnic lunch and more driving around staring at hoodoos.
In our marriage, my books are the children, and oftentimes Greg gets upset if I give overmuch time and attention to the babies and he feels ignored. It took me many years before I figured this out. I try to watch out for this pitfall as much as I can, but there are times — like being told to wear my hiking boots — when I just disagree. Greg worries about me, and himself, and all the rest of everything there is to worry about in life. Mostly I just find myself pondering how harmful the concept of masculinity is, with its motto of “don’t be weak” and “anger is the only safe emotion to show” and “don’t be a pussy, just be mad and stay in control, real men are strong and in charge, and they keep women in line” and all the other internalized beliefs that are used to cover and mask vulnerability, when vulnerability is really not this horrible, evil thing that has to be hidden away.
Unless you’re a dude who wants to “be masculine” in an NFL-friendly, boxing-match sort of mindset, which is the predominant form of masculinity in American culture, especially for boys who grew up in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s — in which case, you’ve often got to choose between being a dick or being real, and old habits die hard.
I didn’t start writing about men struggling with masculinity until I wrote Mark of the Pterren. That book has a lot of philosophy in it, even though I never use the word “masculinity” or anything remotely connected to terms like gender roles, unconscious belief systems, or existential crises. But it’s in there, embedded in how those characters talk, interact, and behave.
I most love my husband when he is tender and nurturing, even though certain aspects of pop culture promote the idea that all women “want bad boys” or “hot guys with hot bods who treat women like sh*t” — which seems so bizarre to me. None of my female friends married men like that, so I’m not the only one who doesn’t fit this weird mindset of “treat me like garbage, as long as you’re hot, and hopefully rich, because money and looks are all that matter in a man.” Our culture projects this message onto children and adults in various ways, and I praise all the dads out there who allow their boys to express emotions other than anger. We need boys to grow up able to express vulnerable emotions, like sadness, fear, doubt, and pain. It’s the fathers of the world who have to open up a space for their sons to be vulnerable, and when I see men taking this risk — being real — this melts me.
I know I’m not the only woman who feels this way. I like writing men who are vulnerable, and I like writing women who adhere to a “don’t be weak” mindset, because the richest stories often arise in that intersection between sex and character. In the places where culture and beliefs slam into biology, and the preprograming each of us has to be the person we are, the information wired into our brains, our neurons, our DNA. All of us have talents we are destined to search for and find, and that inward journey is either helped or inhibited in various ways, depending upon the time and place we’re born into. It’s fascinating!
My husband has a great big heart, and he has a very hard job in our marriage, being tied to a writer who talks about fantasy worlds as if they are real. I empathize.
After we left Bryce Canyon, we drove to Kodachrome State Park, in Utah, and the day was so hot that Greg stretched out under a picnic table at our campsite to nap. I was reading a biography of Margaret Mead at the time, but I put the book down when Greg curled up and said, “Greg! You look just like a big lion under there!” and proceeded to pet his head, shoulder, and back like I was stroking an African lion stretched out on the veldt. I wasn’t petting my husband, but a huge furry feline, and Greg lay there and let me be, and times like that, I know we are well suited for this trippy thing known as marriage.
I’ll share my pictures from the rest of my trip soon — we had a marvelous six-day tour through southern Utah!
Melissa, this is a magnificent travelogue of terrain with its parallel trail of hidden inner emotions prompted by interactions with both earth and life partner. Beautiful and at the same time evokes a bit of sad tinted compassion.
Eager to see you again.
Much love to a beautiful woman full of inner richness,
Thank you so much for your kind words, Ed! I’m glad you enjoyed my thoughts from Bryce Canyon. 🙂