Walking It Off

“I need to get out into the desert,” I announced to my partner at the end of a particularly aggravating week of trying to do the right thing on behalf of the planet and its people.

“I don’t like who I was yesterday….I need to get away from the phone and computer, for my sanity and your safety.”

No argument there! The only question was where to go: I’d deliberately chosen a home in the northwest corner of Las Vegas so there was easy access to Red Rock Canyon’s hiking trails. Nevada has more publically owned land than any other state, and ‘we the people’ savor and work hard to save it.

As ‘locals,’ we have our favorite places, usually outside the high volume visitor areas, that we rate according to how much time we might have the day we head out for a hike.

Today I’ll need Time to ‘walk it off.’ “Don’t take me home until I’m civil again,” I make my partner promise, adding, “I might be calling you from Denver,” where we spend summers.

Strapping on a water bottle, I step onto the dirt trail.

Ahh! I can finally breathe as I begin to get my bearings in this wide-open space of sand, creosote, sage, and prickly pear. A 380-degree view of the horizon is blocked to the north by a wall of rock: Cambrian limestone overtops Jurassic sandstone. Their broken off boulders are strewn across the rising desert floor and we can’t resist stopping to examine them for fossils.

A mile or so in and up, another trail joins the one we are on and I think to take it while my partner continues up to and over the saddle, a favorite place for us to pause and turn back. But today I want to wander alone into unfamiliar territory, so we set a time to meet back at the car and go separate ways.

Beyond the first knoll, the trail winds across red, orange, and maroon shades of slickrock that give this area the name Calico Basin. I let go and follow the unfolding mystery of an unknown path. But although I can see the parking lot and access road, the county road, and even the city itself shrouded in its ozone, there’s no guarantee that I’ll find my way back to the car in a timely way. More than one desert hike has proven the adage ‘you can’t get there from here.’

Knowing this adds a tinge of excitement that wakes up my senses. The silence and solitude feed my spirit and clear my mind; the glow of light from the rain-washed sandstone flows through my being, flushing out the frustration of the week.

Soon enough, clarity cuts through the confusion of living in a culture that consumes rather than communes, where devouring the planet’s resources for pleasure, power, and profit is normative instead of just plain nuts.

The ancestry of the landscape embraces me as I plop down upon a rock to remove a pebble from my shoe.

The figurative pebble in my shoe this week has been the newly elected Senate’s first bill, a payback to the fossil fuel industry that funded their campaigns: force the president to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to carry tarsands oil from Canada across the continent to refineries on the Gulf Coast, an act that could enable such an increased release of carbon into the atmosphere that it would spell ‘game over’ for the planet.

Beyond protesting about this pipeline, training up for non-violent civil disobedience, and submitting a personal comment on the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement, I have most recently signed a contract for rooftop solar. Moving away from dependence on fossil fuels has become a planetary imperative. But NV Energy, which runs on coal and natural gas, is doing everything possible to subvert and sabotage my solar.

Why is trying to do the right thing so frustrating and infuriating? How did the scientific reality of climate change become such a political football, with the people in power refusing to pay attention to its reality ever since it hit the world’s radar screen half my lifetime ago?

I need to let go of this aggravation for a while, be healed by my hike. But as I set off on an extra long loop back to the (electric) car, I mentally begin to draft a personal letter to the President in support of his promise to veto the KXL pipeline.

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