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Small Wonders: Making a voyage of self-discovery

November 25, 2011

Editor's note: While Patrick Caneday takes some time off, we’re running some of his choices for re-publication. This column was first published Aug. 29, 2009.

I was feeling rather morose the other day. Kind of pathetic, lowly, defeated and self-loathing. There was a dull pain in my chest that I attribute to being unsatisfied with my job, having not left a significant mark upon this world by the age of 42, having neither made the best-seller list — which would actually require writing a book — nor being a millionaire and owning a vacation home in either Cambria or Palm Springs. Or it could be the high cholesterol.

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

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I started looking for something to write about — forcing myself, really — 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 marker is not actually in the right place. The cement block famed for being the exact location where the 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 man-made 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 music of Arcangelo Corelli blaring from the tape deck, I'd left Flagstaff, Ariz., 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, gas gauge showing 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.

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