Just Wondering

Early in the summer, I was camping in the southern Utah town of Cedar City. After a day of hiking and then napping by the pool at the campground, I ventured out for a short run about town.

Heading south down the main street, from the northern end of town, I came upon a picturesque cemetery. The tall trees, in an otherwise high desert setting, cast shade about the thick, neatly trimmed grass, made a brilliant green by the slant of the evening sun, and upon the roads leading into the cemetery, vacant on this late Sunday afternoon, inviting me in.

At first I focused on my running, feeling fortunate for the quiet roads and cooler venue. Out of respect, I ran as lightly as I could, placing each step without sound upon the pavement. Is this irreverent? I wondered. I’ve run alongside my hometown cemetery, but never through it.

But soon my attention was on the headstones.

There was something perplexing about them. Each marker seemed recently placed – clean and gleaming like new countertops, all with what appeared to be freshly incised lettering. A newer section of the cemetery, I thought, but, with the inscriptions so sharp and mysteriously not timeworn, I could see, easily, that they were diversely aged, many having been situated there more than 50 years.


How has time not permanently dusted and dulled these markers? Why are the loving inscriptions and vital statistics not worn down, lost to those looking upon them now for the first time? My wondering continued as I ran.

And the decorations! The sites, nearly every one, were adorned with bright bouquets, crisp and new, like the headstones themselves. Deep reds, not one bit faded from the hot western sun, and yellows vibrant as if they had just popped that morning. I saw balloons, aloft of the markers, not drooping in the least, seemingly placed just moments before I arrived. Hats, flags, garden decor. All tidy. Colorful. Nothing out of place. Every grave looking as if it had been attended to that day.

How is this possible? I wondered, looking around, searching for someone, anyone, to inquire if they were noticing what I was noticing, to ask if they knew the secret of this place. It would make sense if it was just past Memorial Day, but the holiday formerly known as Decoration Day was two weeks gone. No one else. No one there to wonder with.

I thought of my running friend, how we’d discuss this if she was here. And my hiking partner; he’d enjoy contemplating these things with me. But mostly I thought of my mom. I remember visiting with her live-in partner one day, remember him saying something about how my mom never says, “I don’t know.” He said that when he asks her a question and she doesn’t know the answer she won’t say, “I don’t know.” She’ll muse about it, toss out some ideas, ask him what he thinks. He didn’t seem to understand why she would do that, why she wouldn’t just say, “I don’t know.”

“Is that bad?” I asked him. “Because I do that, too!” I visualized doing this with my mom; yes, we definitely had thought, together, about things we weren’t sure about, exchanged ideas, furthered our thinking, and often come up with answers or explanations that we wouldn’t have, had we not gone through the process of wondering, together.

I needed my mom, a friend, information about this cemetery, Google, anyone.

After running crisscross up and down all the paved roads in the cemetery, I came upon a newer section toward the back. Here, the roads were gravel. Here, there were no trees, none casting shade anyway. But the markers themselves looked the same–new, recently etched, smartly adorned. An American flag, not faded in the least, flapped in the wind, wind not previously perceived in the more protected confines of the cemetery.


I ran on.

Now I came upon a small dirt area, red dirt, typical of the southwest. Short sticks and rocks marked the burial sites, presumably those of pets. Twenty graves perhaps. Why just 20? Just 20 beloved pets lost over all these years? Perhaps the pet cemetery concept hadn’t taken off or the idea ruled against. A few weeds grew here. Why are there weeds here and nowhere else? Why haven’t they been pulled?


Oh, to mull these thoughts over with someone.

Not far from the pet cemetery, I came upon an information board and a map explaining the layout of the cemetery. A bit of information to shape my pondering.


What? Not a pet cemetery, but an Indian burial area. More questions. Why just 20 or so Indians? Maybe shortly after Indians were permitted (or chose) to be buried here, they were included in the regular sections, treated equally, with grass instead of weeds, proper markers rather than sticks and stones.

I went back to the little dirt area. Took a closer look. Noticed an etching on one of the sandstone rocks placed there. Tom somebody. This rudimentary carving was not sharp, not legible, not even up close, not even later when I zoomed in on the photo. October 1947? 1941? Space for just one date. Was this the year of birth or death? Probably death. Tom. Lost. Lost to most.


I continued on through the cemetery, taking each road one more time. Wondering about this place. Wondering about wondering. I could stop by the office the next morning. Ask some questions. Inquire. I could, upon arriving home, do some research on the Internet. Was there another cemetery in Cedar City? An older, more historic, more typical one? Where were most Indians buried, back then and now, too?

No, forget it. I wasn’t going to. To leave here just wondering, that’s what I decided to do.

I recall mentioning to my aunt the conversation I had had about my mother and her wondering, her thinking aloud, her expecting others to build upon her thoughts, her using this approach to try to come to some understanding, some conclusions. I recall my aunt saying, “I didn’t have a mother who wondered. I had a mother who said, ‘I don’t know.’ It was the more appropriate thing to do in her time.” And then, “I missed out on a lot of conversations.”

So here’s to the power of wondering, to thinking aloud. And here’s to my mother for engaging in this behavior, drawing me in, teaching me to wonder, to just wonder.

I’m Not a Real Runner

This weekend I will drive to Moab, Utah and run a half-marathon called The Other Half. The course starts at the top of a canyon carved by the Colorado River and ends, 13.1 miles later, at a beautiful guest ranch situated along the river among red rock buttes and towering spires. I’ll incorporate a night of camping into the trip. It’s the perfect time of year to be in the desert country of Utah, no longer too hot and not yet cold.

Sorrel River Ranch

Photo credit: kiwicollection.com

While packing a bit ago, I realized a couple of things. First, I’ve been blogging for nearly four months now and I have yet to write about running. I don’t even think I’ve mentioned that I’m a runner. In fact, I know I haven’t. I may have hinted that I go out running sometimes, but to have referred to myself as a runner? No.

I cut this quote from a running magazine a few years back and it’s still stapled to a bulletin board in my office:

I often hear people say, “I’m not a real runner.” We are all runners, some just run faster than others, that’s all. I have never met a fake runner. –Bart Yasso, Runner’s World Chief Running Officer

This quote hit home with me then and it’s still relevant today.

Another thing I realized tonight is that I can replace the word runner and the word faster in that quote and it becomes meaningful in other areas of my life as well.

For example:

I often hear people say, “I’m not a real writer.” We are all writers, some just write more often and with greater impact, that’s all. I have never met a fake writer.”

I’ve written two books and I’m blogging and I’m working on a memoir and I love the process of writing, but still I do not consider myself a real writer. A real writer is someone like my daughter. A couple of days ago I reminded her that she better get busy on her personal essay for her college applications. She grudgingly agreed and worked on it for a couple of hours and then said, “Okay, do you want to hear it? It’s just a rough draft, but I think it might be a good start.” And she proceeded to read this incredible orchestration of emotional, passionate words that showed, beyond a doubt, how deeply and fully she has grown and now understands herself, her strengths, and how she fits into this world. I struggle to even describe the beauty of that essay and how it touched me. And I could never write anything near that significant. She is an emotional being and can easily bring that into her writing. I, on the other hand… well, I’m not a real writer. I can’t do it like she does and I’m sure I’ll never be able to.

I often hear people say, “I’m not a real musician.” We are all musicians, some just create their own music, that’s all. I have never met a fake musician.”

I took piano lessons for nine years growing up, ages 9 to 18. I also played the flute and the oboe. I quit playing the piano when I went to college, when I found myself among real musicians. Surely I wasn’t in the same league as they were. And then there’s my brother. He took a couple of months of piano lessons as a kid. That’s it. But he picked up a guitar in high school and taught himself to play. He can’t read a lick of music, but he can listen to any song and pick it out on his guitar and have it sounding like the real thing in a matter of hours. Or, he’ll just write his own songs. I don’t have an ear. I can’t play anything unless I read the music. I think you’ll agree, he’s the real musician.

I often hear people say, “I’m not a real cook.” We are all cooks, some just put care and time into it, that’s all. I have never met a fake cook.

Well, then, let me introduce myself.

The running quote will be on my mind this weekend. I’ve run this race a few times before and I always have mixed emotions afterwards. I’ll have a few hours to contemplate this as I trot down the canyon and a few more on the way home as I leave Utah and cross back into Colorado. I hope to think through these feelings more deeply this time and come to some newer, and truer, realizations.

If I do, I’ll get back to you.

Running The Other Half in October 2011.

Running The Other Half in October 2011.

Leave Only Footprints (And a Smile)

Take Only PicturesFor the most part, I follow this basic outdoor ethics philosophy:  take only pictures, leave only footprints. Actually, I take it a step further and do my best to take lots and lots of pictures and to not leave any footprints, especially when hiking in our desert where we have lots of cryptobiotic soil.

However, when hiking in the San Rafael Swell, Utah recently, I got a wild hair and left something other than footprints. I don’t think anyone will mind.

If you happen to get to Crack Canyon or Little Wild Horse Canyon, let me know if you see this guy or any of his kind around.


Posted for Creative Challenge 273 – Post anything YOU have created using the inspiration (prompt) word/phrase smile.