I begin this last day of writing a month in a minivan in a state of art-pray, thinking about snakes. As a young girl, I often caught garter snakes to play with for short times. Other than foul-smelling pee, they were harmless. You could find them under hay bales at harvest time, and every old farm house had a pile of rocks where snakes lived. I mostly saw them as playmates.
Here in the desert, it’s different. Snakes are a powerful presence. They can be five feet long, and their bite can be fatal. They are waking up from a winter hibernation and appearing among us. Some people kill them, out of sport or fear. Some revere them. They are prominent in many desert indigenous teachings, symbology, art and jewellery.
As I begin to paint, I ask to know the snake’s spirit. To be truthful, I’m not sure I use actual words to do that. It’s more just like “wonderings” that bubble up from inside. I am beginning to think that prayer and curiousity might just be the same thing. I offer up my curiousity. In the direction of the snake.
I just start sinking into my morning “contem-painting” when I begin to feel restless. Before I know it, we are in the car and on our way out of town, a cloud of dust behind us. I don’t have time for painting! There is a doorway opening and I’ve got to get going! I have somewhere to to!
It’s not until I get to the other side of Portal that I’m reminded to slow down. Distracted rushing will rob me of rich experiences, and make my world smaller. I want “wide-open” road, not narrow!
I thank the Universe for the reminder, and commit myself to remaining open and relaxed, even through in my mind, I am already soaking in the Gila Hotsprings. Plus, I’m speeding.
Not ten minutes down the road I hit a T junction, and directly in front of me is the Apache Museum and the Chiricahua Desert Museum. There is a moment of hesitation. My foot hovers over the gas pedal. Hotsprings. You have to get to the hotsprings.
But I’m starting to catch on to this. I ask for guidance, and now I need to be prepared to accept it. This being a student thing is a two way street. It’s not lost on me that a snake appears on the sign.
So, the Apache Museum is closed for a staff meeting and I feel instantly disappointed, as if I took a wrong turn or read the sign wrong. I almost decline paying admission for only one part of the experience, but the woman smiles and says “it will still be worth it” and that was that.
Pips and I are the the only visitors, and the exhibit is on motion-lights so it’s a bit dark in the gallery, before we start moving around. The door closes behind us and I scan the rooms, which I see includes live animals further in.
Immediately, my eye catches something on the floor on the other side of the gallery. The room feels a bit eerie to be truthful; the cases are full of things like the worlds largest snake-bite kit, turtle shells, old books and odd curio about snakes from around the world. There is something voo-doo about it all, in the dark. I walk slowly to the thing and pick it up. It’s a snakeskin.
You know those bumps at the side of the highway? The ones that startle you awake, if you start to drift a little bit too far onto the shoulder or into the other lane? They rumble-jolt you, telling you to roll down the window, turn up the music or give your head a good shake. That’s how I feel, holding the skin. Like I just hit one of those bumps; my sleep-bump, my awake-strip, my alert system. Holding that snakeskin was like that, and now I also have the goosebumps.
I look around for someone to give me an explanation about why there might be snake skin on the floor, but no one steps out of the shadows to help me. I scan the corners of the room, including the high ones, to see if the skin’s previous owner is in the vicinity. I see nothing, and place it (reverently) on the counter, where I find it’s other half.
In the next room, Pippa and I meet it’s likely owner. Safely behind glass in a large terrarium, he is very much awake and very much interested in Pippa, who makes a very low guttural noise and takes two steps backward. I follow Pippa’s lead, stepping back, but am entranced by it’s swaying, rattling and intense eye contact with Pippa.
They are dancing, communicating, and it’s clear I am to take two more steps backward now too. I film a small interaction because I feel I am in a learning moment I can’t quite grasp yet, and may want to review later.
We go back to the turtles, and Pippa shakes off the interaction. Pippa’s shaking has come to alert me that that we are moving from one experience to the next. Now it’s time to leave. Back in the car, I muse a bit.
Today I have Kokopelli riding shotgun, a rabbit’s foot on my dashboard and I am asked to consider the snake; It’s unique habit of growing out of it’s skin, and it’s effective boundary setting.
I do arrive in Gila, where babies fill the green fields and I can feel the power of the place. Ancient power I can’t name, but can only sense. Things are born here.
After dark, when the pools are empty of others and clothing optional, I soak under the stars and cry for this ending. At the labour of sinking deep into an experience for an entire month. For the intensity of the movement. It’s almost over.
This month has passed, and nothing will remain except this trail of words I have left behind.
Like the snakeskin, it is not the thing, but a reminder of the thing.
I think about fertility and creativity and how the monthly cycle is a powerful thing for women. It has been quite a month, even as I now count the ones in which I no longer experience my menses. I had my last one as I came to the desert back in December. I somehow don’t think this is coincidental.
I want to thank you for being here with me as I’ve journeyed. I have felt your spirits with me; you have been midwives and attendants. When I stepped out of that warm pool tonight into the cold desert air, I stepped into a new journey and I am ready. When you are naked and cold under a million stars it’s hard to imagine you actually have what you need for the trip. But I do. We do.
I have only one piece of advice, after all of this, and it’s not about solar panels, how to wash your hair or where to go out here on the road. If you come, you will figure all that out, because it is unique and personal to you. My advice is something more important and maybe universal. Just one thing. Okay, maybe two.
Don’t fall asleep at the wheel.
Refuse to be sedated; rendered unconscious by what society or others say your life should be, or who you should be.
Pay attention to the rumble strips, your rumble strips – the things that jolt your spirit awake, make you curious or give you goosebumps. Listen carefully. Follow your curiousity like a spirit-guide.
And don’t write the ending first! It’s not about the ending! This is all we can be sure of; this one glorious moment we are currently in.
Linger over each word, each paragraph, each chapter; no matter what it holds. The painful, frightening, confusing and confounding. The beautiful. Use lots of commas and make up new words that better express what you need to say. Show up and author your own story.
That’s my wish. And it’s got nothing to do with vanlife, or being nomadic or even living in nature. This is just one of many journeys; just one of many vehicles that could take you there. That can bring you home.
If you need hope, please drink some right away. Look for it everywhere! Rub yourself on it! Roll in it, and cover yourself in it’s scent! This was taped to the back of the door in the outhouse, in Portal.
Just don’t fall asleep at your wheel. Fight, if you must, to stay awake. If you can just stay awake, you will arrive. Fully alive. In your very own life.
Safe passage to you all, and much love.
Kit & Pippa.