Lost in the Wilderness

Destinations are the goal, but often getting lost is what the journey is all about.

I was feeling rather morose the other day.

Lowly and defeated with just a hint of self loathing. There was a dull pain in my chest that I attribute to dissatisfaction with my work, having not left a significant mark upon this world, made my first million nor the best seller list by the age of 42—which would require actually writing a book.

Or maybe it was just acid reflux.

Either way, I needed to get myself out of this funk. Sometimes we have to do something physical to trigger something emotional and spiritual.

So I started looking for something to write about—forced myself, actually—and opened an old journal I’d written in 1994 while on a road trip through the Four Corners region of the southwest.

Not long ago I read that the Four Corners monument is not actually in the right place. The cement block famed for being the exact location where the 90 degree corners of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, meet is in fact 1,875 feet away from the real geographical location, experts say. Placing too much faith in the manmade can be a mistake.

I recognize the words in this journal and the person who wrote them, and I am embarrassed for him. He was young, so young in so many ways; single and without responsibilities. His words are the rhapsodic ramblings of an adventure-seeking dreamer. And he’s scared to death when he finds it.

With the classical music of Corelli blaring on the tape deck, I left Flagstaff, Arizona, and drove through Monument Valley into the remotest regions of southern Utah. As day’s end neared, I followed a line on a map that was supposed to lead me to a small town. The paved road turned to dirt, and the dirt to mud as an ominous rain began to fall. And what I found in place of civilization was an abandoned motel and several acres of junked cars.

I turned back, needle on empty, and retraced my route. It was at least 50 miles in any direction to any dot on the map, not that I trusted the map anymore. The words in this journal entry are that of a scared, lost, intimidated and humbled fool; lost in the wilderness that I’d put myself in, about to stall out on a dirt road and overcome with panic at being alone in the wilds of Utah.

I haven’t changed much in 15 years.

I have days when I feel like a competent parent; never a great one, just coping and not making too many mistakes. Those are the good days. Most of the time I feel like fodder for my daughters’ tell-all book 30 years from now; a lazier, heavier version of Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest.

I go to church, but often forget to take it with me. I am an employee, but would rather not be in the office. I am a son, but haven’t said thank you enough to my parents. I am a citizen, but water my lawn more than recommended. I am a cook but don’t feed enough people. I am a human, but am too often inhumane.

I am not a man of action. Never have been. I am one who lets life unfold before him rather than wrenching it open myself. And while I’m letting the world happen, I am constantly distracted; by work, chores, tabloid headlines and Discovery Channel shows about fish or bridges; all of the things we fill our time with, the things that keep our minds occupied so we can’t hear the silence or feel the real emotions inside that scare us. We’re so distracted that we neglect to see that the needle is on empty.

What we need to do once in a while is put ourselves 50 or 1000 miles out of our comfort zone down a dirt road and see what happens. We need self discovery, not just the “looking inward” kind, but the looking outward at the world kind. Make things out there known in here, in yourself. The Grand Canyon is just a myth until you see it for yourself. And so is happiness.

Ever notice how you feel a little more at peace with yourself when you wear your favorite shirt? How your car seems to drive better after you’ve washed it? How much more you appreciate life after you’ve jumped out of a plane and the parachute opens?

It’s communion. Taking a cracker and imparting it with the power to change you. A physical action symbolizing a spiritual benchmark. An expression of faith in something outside yourself, for we can’t do it on our own.

You don’t have to walk on hot coals, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe all you need is a new haircut.

As my car sputtered into a campsite that wasn’t on the map, I came across a park ranger named Nate. I about cried. He told me he could only sell me four gallons of gas; more than I needed.  I took his gas, but stayed the night in his beautiful hidden campground. I can still picture that southwest sky catching fire as the sun set after the rains.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about change. And it scares the hell out of me. It’s an understandable fear, but it paralyzes me with inaction nonetheless.

At some point I have to learn that I’m not in control. Nate is.


Excerpted from “Crooked Little Birdhouse: Random Thoughts on Being Human” available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.

Read more on Travel on The Good Life.

Image credit: Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr

About Patrick Caneday

PATRICK CANEDAY is a mediocre father, so-so husband, full-time employee at a major entertainment company and award-winning newspaper columnist in Los Angeles, CA. He's also author of the book “Crooked Little Birdhouse: Random Thoughts on Being Human.”  Contact him at patrickcaneday@gmail.com. Read more at www.randomthoughtsonbeinghuman.com.

Speak Your Mind