My re-entry into what is euphemistically termed civilization was rocky. Literally.
Having left B.C., heading south, I drove through bucolic early autumn weather on secondary roads, avoiding the Interstate highway system in the U.S. whenever possible. Washington was sunny, so was Oregon, Idaho and Utah. It wasn’t until I entered Arizona the skies opened and rain fell in the last place I expected it.
When it rains in Arizona it doesn’t fool around. Parched desert land can only soak up so much moisture. The rest flows in rivulets, creeks, arroyos, streams and finally rivers, flash flooding along the way, sweeping rocks, flora, fauna and unsuspecting drivers along its surging path.
Arizona was unexpectedly green. Vermont green. A green rarely seen in the sere desert colours of the Wild West.
After 17 days transiting the Grand Canyon at river level, I’d been warned re-entry might be an experience in dissociation. Devoid of external communication with the world, but fully engaged in my time-travel surroundings as I drifted through a billion years of Earth’s geological basement, I’d mostly lost interest in what might be happening elsewhere. Not my reality.
Had Ukraine gone up in a mushroom cloud? Had someone finally put the red laser dot on Putin’s forehead? Was Canada still muddling through? Not my reality.
The warning was prescient... in more ways than one.
The take-out, at Diamond Creek—about 112 kilometres upstream from Lake Mead—is popular with rafters. The road out isn’t. Not popular. Not a road. Running through the Hualapai reservation, much of the road is, in fact, Diamond Creek’s riverbed. Rough always, it had been reduced to a rock-strewn path by the flash floods of late. Idle bulldozers sat alongside, having graded just enough of a passage to avoid ripping the oil pans off the vans but not enough to keep from bottoming out. A rocky re-entry. But not the one I’d been warned about.
A long hour later, someone’s phone dinged as it picked up a faint signal from a cell tower. Rocky re-entry, 2.0
Five days into the trip, we’d hiked—climbed—from Rattlesnake Camp to the top of the Tabernacle, a peak looking like the prototype for much of ancient Greek architecture. Through the Dox Sandstone, ascending to a steep Tapeats Sandstone cliff, the trail climbed 671 metres in 3.7 kilometres, offering spectacular views and vertiginous dropoffs.
Standing at the summit, admiring 360-degree views of the eastern Canyon, someone noticed their camera, er, cellphone, had a signal. What followed was a brief frenzy of texting for some, horror for others grown used to the absence of an electronic umbilical. Such is modern life.
But at the ding in the van 12 days later, people whipped out their phones like gunslingers drawing to save their lives. Some immediately dialled numbers, anxious to assure family they’d made it out; some made hotel reservations. I suspect at least one was flirting with a 1-900 sex talk woman.
I held out as long as possible, but finally asked the only question I had about the real world: Who did Whistler voters put on council seven days earlier? No surprises. No regrets.
That was as much real world as I was ready for. I looked in horror at my burgeoning email inbox. Not ready for that. I retreated into the swiftly passing desert landscape.
I’m the first to admit I’m not a well-connected person. I don’t have a cellphone of my own. Don’t go near social media sites. Have never tweeted, with the possible exception of some sloppy reed work when I played the clarinet as a child. Only know Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest and the rest as names of things I know nothing about, places I’ve never been.
Sometime later, after a long shower, a second shower and some dinner, I fired up my laptop and scanned the headlines on the Globe and Mail and Pique. I felt as though time had stood still. Virtually nothing had changed. Neither nuclear war nor peace had broken out. World markets were largely in the same place they were three weeks earlier. Inflation still raged. Rage still raged among much of the world’s population.
The deck chairs had been rearranged... somewhat. The imbecilic Prime Minister of England had resigned, having discovered what the rest of the world knew, that she was in far over her head. Jason Kenney had been replaced by someone even crazier. Donald Trump still wasn’t in jail. A handful of mass murders had spooled out in the U.S. while I wasn’t paying attention. Justin Trudeau was apologizing for something.
The only news I discovered that might directly impact my life was the announcement Marketplace was nuking the first-hour-free parking. Caramba!
It took a week and a half to sift through my email and eliminate the 70 per cent that was either outdated or irrelevant. Apologies to those I answered late or with fragmented sentences. I still can’t watch a whole newscast. I scan headlines and read a story or two before my mind drifts on to other things. Look, a squirrel.
John Prine’s lyric about blowing up my TV and throwing away my papers plays frequently in my internal jukebox. Ah, but the World Series has started, and while not really knowing any more than the names of the teams playing, it’s still important to me if for no other reason than it’s my official end of summer and starting gun for ski season, not to mention the only sport I watch all year long.
I’m not sure what the takeaway is, and if you’ve read this far hoping for one, well, sorry. I’ve known for a long time there is a world more real, maybe more important than worrying about missing out on some snippet of news or popular culture. A friend musing on work-life balance once said, “If you want to know how important you are to your employer, get a bucket, fill it with water, stick your hand in, make a fist and pull it out fast. The hole you leave behind is not unlike the hole you’ll leave behind when you quit.”
Or the hole we’ll leave behind when we’re gone?
I do know my life will regress to the mean, mathematically if not metaphysically. I know world events I currently find irrelevant will regain some patina of importance. I know I’ll continue to be passionate about affordable housing and local politics in Tiny Town. But these things will take time to work their way to the front of mind, time to displace the surreal feeling of travelling back in time.
Then again... not sure how to end that sentence. So I’ll stop while I’m ahead.