jeanne-blasberg-arizona-with-husband-and-dogs-returning-east-pandemic-road-trip

Returning East: Road Trip as Art Across America

This essay was originally published on Medium.com under the title “Returning East: Lessons Learned on a Pandemic Road Trip.”

Whereas our trek West as our road trip began in January had been motivated by the urgent need to arrive, our return trip was intentionally drawn out, our desire to avoid returning to reality for as long as possible. We budgeted two weeks for our drive from Park City, UT to Boston, MA. Two weeks in which to traverse this strange, beautiful country. Two weeks in which to reroot ourselves in family — visit my grandparents’ graves in Oklahoma City, bring our son home for a holiday weekend. Two weeks in which to say goodbye to “Out West,” home of our ski bum test run, and prepare ourselves for a return to city life.

Before I delve too deeply into the drive, I want to reiterate how healing the trip was in general. I recently read an article by the Urban Monk regarding brain plasticity. The idea is that patterns are stuck in our brain, both healthy habits and unhealthy habits, both beneficial ways of thinking and destructive ways of thinking. Trauma can get stuck in our brains. But the good news is that it doesn’t need to be permanently stuck because our brains are plastic with the ability to change. Traveling somewhere new is an exercise to gain greater brain plasticity. I truly believe that all of our stops and having to figure out new places on this road trip kept me in the present moment, changing my brain’s dependance on routine, the auto-pilot sensation that came with so many months of being at home.

The beginning of our drive “back East” brought us perhaps the most important road trip lesson of all: sometimes the best experience is the one that wasn’t even on your itinerary.

As March 2021 drew to a close and April opened before us it was time to go home. We would find ourselves in St Louis, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, New York — cities of ever-expanding population that pulled us inevitably back toward our urban existence. Our days were no longer spent marveling at mountains or exploring personal and national histories, but working in Marriotts and replenishing the food stores that would get us from one Zoom meeting to the next. It was a stark change from the silence of our snowy walking paths. But before we arrived at our destination, we had a few more things to learn from the mountains, deserts, and prairies along the way. The beginning of our drive “back East” brought us perhaps the most important road trip lesson of all: sometimes the best experience is the one that wasn’t even on your itinerary.

jeanne-blasberg-park-city-utah-returning-east-pandemic-road-tripWe left Park City on March 20th, with an itinerary that would take us through some of the most lauded locales of the Southwest. Our first stop was Zion National Park where we’d elected to try “glamping” at Under Canvas, yet one more chance, we thought, to commune with the nature that had been so influential to us throughout the winter. But glamping, it turns out, isn’t all that glam with the March chill creeping in and two dogs demanding our attention. The wood burning stoves might’ve kept the cold at bay, but the need to refill them every 90 minutes or so led to something of a sleepless night.

In the park, we found that COVID restrictions required sightseers to enter the park by bus. Tickets were only a dollar, but sold daily on a lottery basis — so basically impossible to get. Luckily we learned that one could access the park by bike, and our time at Zion was saved by cycling into the incredible scenery.

jeanne-blasberg-arizona-with-husband-and-dogs-returning-east-pandemic-road-trip(One other travel hack we learned about was Rover.com. Dogs are not allowed inside most National Parks, but the Rover app helped us find wonderful dog sitters in nearby towns so that our dogs could be well-looked after while we were biking or hiking. I kept this app on my phone and have now used it all over the country. I would say that it is great for daycare, but I haven’t had such good luck with walking or boarding services on the app.)

Our fortunes continued to improve as we left Zion and drove south through the Grand Canyon toward Flagstaff. It was a beautiful, desolate drive and John and I were just overwhelmed by the expanse of land, the solitude and the beauty. Red earth, plateaus, long stretches of nothing but orange and auburn bright against blue sky. We crossed the Colorado river close to Lee’s Ferry and Lake Powell, stopped at the bridge to buy some great books from a small gift shop — Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and David Gessner, place-based writers emblematic of the American West. Interestingly, all three of these writers also had strong connections back East, Gessner originally from Boston. I was in good company, it seemed, among writers deeply affected by the landscape that now surrounded us.

jeanne-blasberg-american-west-red-rocks-blue-sky-returning-east-pandemic-road-tripFrom Flagstaff we drove to Santa Fe. Departing Arizona and heading into New Mexico continued our experiential lesson in expansiveness. The desert really felt deserted. It was nerve wracking, but also extremely beautiful. There was always this fear just below the surface — what if we were to break down here? How would we ever get help? For a city person to drive through hours and hours of nothing is quite something. Accustomed to 24/7 road side assistance, the ability to order anything and receive it quickly, the lack of apparent help or support in the event of danger took us back to an earlier era of self-reliance. With a survivalist’s frame of mind, the red rocks and landscape were more than a beautiful backdrop. They spoke to me, “We are more than just iconic scenery, you must live to tell about it. You must have gas, you must have water, you must know how to repair your own car.” The thrill of the road trip was wrapped up in the beauty, for sure, but making it through to the other side felt brave and like an accomplishment too.

Closures and vacancies due to COVID were evident all over New Mexico, but the landscape as we approached the civilization of Albuquerque was a balm for two easterners not ready to let go of big sky, aridness, and an early taste of spring. Despite all the major museums being closed in Santa Fe, galleries were open, and the Saturday we were there, we were treated to perfect weather in which to walk and take in the town. We meandered through the galleries in the Santa Fe Railyard where there was a lively outdoor market and contemporary art museum. We were attracted to the large oil paintings in one gallery, canvases painted with photographic realism, and when I asked the owner if it was okay to bring our dogs in, she brightened.

“Of course, just about every gallery in Santa Fe is dog friendly.”

Our Australian Labradoodle and long haired Dachsund never fail to be conversation starters.

“Where y’all from?”

When we explained we were from Boston, and in the midst of our drive East, the gallery owner was quick to ask if we planned to visit Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, AK on our way.

I was a little embarrassed to admit that after Santa Fe and a stop in Oklahoma City to pay respects at the gravesites of my grandparents, I hadn’t plotted out our road trip journey with much intention. But upon checking the map and seeing it wasn’t too far out of the way, we decided her mentioning it was a sign we should head there. Turns out it would actually encapsulate our experience.

We had a wonderful 24 hours in Santa Fe, where we stayed in the room at the La Posada hotel where the former mistress of the property, Julia Staab, went crazy and killed herself and is known to haunt hotel guests. I immediately ordered American Ghost a book written about Julia by her great-great-granddaughter and was incredibly edifying with regard to the town’s first and most prominent Jewish family.

From there we made our way to Amarillo TX, reading about Julia’s clan as well as well known Santa Fe artists like Georgia O’Keefe as well as Edgar Lee Hewitt and “The Eight,” artists who would frequent Santa Fe during the early part of the Twentieth Century, putting it on the map as an artist’s colony. Their art attracted funds and tourism to Santa Fe but was also responsible for portraying a romanticized view of the American West and Native Americans to patrons on the East coast. Much of this art was responsible for the misrepresenting the reality of that life, where Native Americans lived in robust communities and were not lone unicorns, not savages or curiosities.

When finally, we pulled off I-40 in Amarillo to see Cadillac Ranch, it seemed art, or at least color would be the overriding theme of our journey. This long row of Cadillacs half buried in a rancher’s land is spray painted over by tourists on a daily if not hourly basis. We arrived at dusk with the row of cars set off by a blue sky turning periwinkle and springtime green of grass. If we felt like we’d begun to appreciate the wild art of the American landscape, we had much more in store.

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Walton family patronage has made Bentonville an oasis of art and education. Crystal Bridges, one result of that patronage, is a museum of American Art, but not just any museum. There, exhibits are hung thematically as opposed to chronologically or by culture, resulting in a viewing experience set apart from that of any other art museum I’ve visited — and a commensurate level of appreciation on my part. Wouldn’t you know a place that we hadn’t originally planned on our road trip was the highlight and took the theme of experiential art, sculpture, painting and architecture to a new level.

Crystal Bridges’ curation provided a critical commentary on the approach taken by exhibitions such as those once hung by “The Eight” of the Santa Fe School in the early part of the Twentieth Century. At Crystal Bridges, traditional American art was hung alongside Native American art and African American art of similar time periods offering a more complete and complex picture of historical periods and for me highlighted the bias of the white lens through which many museums are curated. It was a timely lesson, completely in line with what I was learning in DEI training I was doing around anti-racist approaches art and cultural institutions should take. Something about being in Arkansas was liberating, maybe freeing the curators and educators there from an East Coast, “Old School,” point of view with regard to telling American stories. I so appreciated our time in this museum. It felt like the curators at Crystal Bridges were really on to a new way of hanging art and educating the public.

John and I spent an afternoon and the following morning at the museum and its gardens. The architecture and sculpture in its acres of gardens being a true part of the experience. In addition, flowers and trees were in bloom in late March, it was mild, we were being treated to another phase of spring and the natural world awakening. A quick check of the weather app on my phone told me this was not what was waiting for us in the Northeast.

jeanne-blasberg-crystal-bridges-american-art-museum-sculpture-garden-returning-east-pandemic-road-tripAs we drove out of Arkansas, we listened to Alice Walton’s audio guide of her collection, which further emphasized what we had felt walking through the galleries. Wow. She was not a woman raised on museums or with an Art History education. She learned much as a collector and had a very intuitive and contemporary take on what she purchased for the museum. She had expert advice yes, but she collected with a desire to have strong female representation and to represent artists with differing perspectives. For this Art History student from Smith College, raised on our American cities’ major museums and the great European masters, her point of view was not only refreshing but electrifying.

After Crystal Bridges, our road trip began its turn toward reality. The wide distances of the desert were filled first with grasses, then with trees, and finally with the concrete, cars, and apartment buildings of our city slicker life, an architecture and a lifestyle far less connected to the land. Still, the drive home was incredibly stimulating and took our minds off of the work we had in front of us. Taking our cue from road trip lessons, we had decided that after raising our family in Boston, it was time to sell the home our children no longer inhabited. It was just too big for the two of us, too much to keep up with. We felt ready to part with much of our stuff. Living in Air BnB’s and out of a car for 6 months can have that effect on you. In letting go of the surroundings we’d carefully curated over 20 years in Boston, we freed ourselves to see more clearly the beauty of the art objects all around us, and it was an experience we wanted more of.

jeanne-blasberg-beacon-hill-boston-spring-returning-east-pandemic-road-tripWe’ve been back in Boston for three months now, and I miss the red rock, the Ozarks, the mild weather, the unexpectedness. As I write this most of that landscape is in the midst of a drought and record heat wave. I think about the expanse of desert in such extreme conditions and I worry about the lack of water. I wonder if our potential relocation west would add to the problem of this fragile landscape or if we could settle with sensitivity, with appreciation, and a desire to do no harm?

As I write this our Boston home is under contract, with a closing in little over a month. I am purging our belongings, letting go. Things are slowly falling into place. I credit our drive out and back as the catalyst for our transformation, a literal change to my brain’s wiring. To see and feel the distance was important; to see the beauty, endlessly affecting. It’s something architects know, and sculptors: the profound impact our surroundings have on us, the undeniable impact of relationships of space. I think it spoke to two people used to crowded urban centers — it said, there is more room than you think, more opportunity, possibility for a change, even in a pandemic, even in a drought, even at your age. I’m so glad we took the time to listen.

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Our Road Trip and Tips for Yours

This essay originally appeared on Medium.com

Read more of Jeannie’s Essays on her blog, at Medium.com, and across the web—and check out her book reviews at the New York Journal of Books, or on Goodreads.

car-loaded-up-for-grown-up-gap-year-against-distant-mountains

The Value of a Grown-Up Gap Year

This essay was originally published in the Travel section of Moms Don’t Have Time To as “The Value of a Grown-Up Gap Year.”

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A Quest for Quiet and the Ability to Live in it

This essay was originally published on Medium.com.

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Family Reunion Just Cuz

This essay was originally published on Medium.com.

My earliest memories of family outside the nucleus of my mother and father was my mother’s family: her father, three siblings, and my cousins.  My eldest uncle and his first wife had three children and we were often sandwiched together during the summer, swimming in Lake George, singing in the back seat of the car, and scouring the attic in our grandparent’s home for dress up material for skits we’d put on for the whole clan as they sipped cocktails and pulled dinner together.

The next crop of cousins would appear when I was ten years old, creating a span between we four older cousins and the seven younger ones, but I always remember marveling when they were born and playing with them when they were little.  My aunts and uncles often served as surrogate parents, taking care of me for long stretches of time.

I’m going to do a huge fast forward, but a lot of things would come to pass, not between the cousins but in our parents’ generation: hurt feelings, relocations, distance, divorce, death. The result was a chasm in my relationship with my aunts and uncles.  I even went so far as to walk away from my mother’s side of the family for a period of time after her death, like it was my duty to continue to carry her baggage, with a side order of who needs them anyway.

Three years ago, my cousins invited me to my aunt and uncle’s 50th Anniversary party and I attended. I was so nervous going into the evening, I made my daughter come with me.  I would be seeing the whole crew after a fifteen year separation.  My aunts and uncles were all welcoming and kind, but the best part of the evening would sitting at dinner with my cousins, and  introducing my daughter to women with whom she shared so much in common. It was more than fun – it was incredible.  In adulthood our age differences melted away.

Last year I bumped into one of my cousins in Utah (thanks to Facebook) and after spending time with her, was finally ready to admit to myself I had a yearning for family. Family with a capital F,  as in blood relatives.  My mother had been gone fifteen years and it was remarkable how being in the presence of her DNA was strangely comforting.

Riding a chairlift together in Utah, we hatched the idea of a cousins ski trip.  Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, our parents all shared a true love of the downhill, speed, and risky behavior.  Skiing is not just a sport, but sort of a family value, and one that everyone could get behind.  After requesting preferred dates from a few of the cousins,  I went ahead and reserved the condo, then threw out the details to the group….  people seemed up for it in the springtime, but  I wasn’t sure anyone would show when the time came.  Let’s just say I bought the cancellation insurance. 

Well…. I am happy to report that a week ago, seven of the eleven gathered in Deer valley for a long weekend. I am still glowing!  We laughed and skied and talked on the lifts and over dinner. We compared our varying versions of the family history, what was once vitriol in our parents’ generation seemed like a virus we were anxious to be rid of.  We resemble each other and act like each other and, as the one only child in the group, maybe I felt it the most – but being around others I recognized in myself planted me to the earth in a way I haven’t been for a very long time.

I see my mother in my cousins, I see my children in my cousins and they see me in their parents as well.  Without the cousin’s ski trip, it may have taken a wedding or funeral to get us all together again.  The effort everyone made (in most cases leaving spouses at home to take care of young families) was tremendous.  The commitment  to attend was a demonstration of love for each other and desire to to stay connected. 

Before the weekend I felt a little sheepish and separated, but now I feel like I have six new friends.  I even met one for the first time (as we are almost 20 years apart in age).  The message here is: Don’t wait to get people together.   Even the busiest of people will make the effort if you plan far enough in advance.  Make it a destination to give people an extra incentive, maybe centered around an activity most of the people enjoy.  A weekend is plenty of time to come away feeling connected. Let everybody pitch in with meals, cars, etc.  Then sit back and drink it in.  It’s even possible your grandparents will also be up in heaven, rewarding you with serendipity and and helping to orchestrate the fun.

jeanne-mcwilliams-blasberg-travel-blog-patience-ocean-as-teacher

Patience: The Ocean as my Teacher

This essay was originally posted on Medium.com.

jeanne-mcwilliams-blasberg-travel-blog-ocean-teaches-patienceJohn and I flew down to the Dominican Republic to spend New Year’s with friends at Casa de Campo. It was the afternoon of our arrival and we were enjoying cold drinks and their view of the sun lowering over the sea when I reached for my phone to take a picture. My head flashed with heat as I realized the phone, credit cards, and drivers license attached were missing. A quick back-track of our steps had us returning to the resort’s security gate where I had been so excited to see our friends pulling in to greet us, that I stupidly left the phone behind. I was extremely grateful to learn it had been found and turned over to resort security.

By the time we arrived in the DR, we were already nearing the end of our holiday and I couldn’t help feeling like this little mishap was a final test of sorts. Getting reunited with my phone became almost a comical exercise in patience — primarily because I was embarrassed and concerned I’d thrown off our hosts’ evening plans more than any mistreatment by the very conscientious resort staff!

jeanne-mcwilliams-blasberg-travel-blog-friends-on-beach-learn-patienceI’ve been given many teachers in this life when it comes to cultivating patience. Some of the most poignant have appeared while traveling. At home, it’s easy to construct a predictable daily structure, everything under my control (haha). When I lose my patience at home, I often brush it off as justified. I think, “how dare xyz not serve my needs as I want when I want?” But travel takes me to places where my ego has to admit I am insignificant and invisible. Travel separates me from my well-curated routine, creating obvious opportunities to practice patience. Travel holds me accountable to family members — who won’t let me get away with anything.

The first half of the holiday break had us traveling to Punta de Mita, Mexico with our three adult children. There, we enjoyed the Pacific Ocean, cooked simple meals in the villa, lit Hanukkah candles, played games, and talked…   Read More

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Revisiting: When Book Tour Becomes Time Travel

This essay was originally published on Medium.com.

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A stunning walk in Laguna Beach

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beautiful green Japanese water lilies

A Song of Gratitude: Reflecting on Japan

This article originally appeared on Indagare under the title “A Song of Gratitude: Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg Reflects on her Journey to Japan.”

Our trip to Japan followed a week in Hong Kong where my husband had business and I spent mornings working and writing before doing my best to take in the city amidst unrelenting rain. Our introduction to Japan was eye-opening, and sightseeing in Tokyo felt both educational and sensual: the Imperial Palace, the fish market, the samurai tradition, the infrastructure being built for the upcoming Olympic Games, a new Emperor literally ushering in a new era…it was a lot to take in, and I was still struggling with the tragic news of a friend’s unexpected death, as well as missing my children on Mother’s Day and dealing with an overflowing inbox each morning. But, despite this unease, my husband and I immersed ourselves in Tokyo’s complexities, tackling the sprawling subway system, crisscrossing neighborhoods for shopping, visiting museums, attending sumo wrestling contests, taking cooking lessons and more.

We left Tokyo to spend 24 simple, meditative hours at a traditional ryokan outside the city, where I felt myself finally begin to relax into my surroundings. We enjoyed massages and delicious meals. We listened from our crisp white futons atop tatami mats as the rain fell and the birds chirped. I began to appreciate the culture’s continuum of generosity and hospitality behind everything we encountered: the insistence on cleanliness, the way food was selected and served, the calligraphy, the tea ceremony, even the slicing of sushi.

Our first full day in Kyoto, toward the end of our trip, was designed to be the climax, and I had high expectations for a very special day. After breakfast, we met our guide, who escorted us to a tea ceremony and on a stroll through a lovely, ancient neighborhood. The weather was perfect, and we were off to a great start. The next stops on the itinerary were the bamboo forest and the Golden Temple on the outskirts of the city. Perfect, I thought, we would avoid Kyoto’s throngs of tourists and have a walking meditation through nature. We were met, instead, by tour busses and selfie stick-wielding masses. In addition to the usual population of international tourists, this was “school trip week,” and large clusters of students in uniform had been dispatched to Kyoto, the country’s cultural capital. The peaceful, contemplative ambience we’d been grasping for was quickly evaporating.

When our guide explained that the Golden Temple would be just as crowded, I expressed my desire for a new plan. I didn’t need to check major attractions off a list. I yearned for more mystery, more beauty. Although an abrupt change of course isn’t exactly common in Japan, our guide, like any great hostess, proved adept at “calling an audible.” We hailed a cab and escaped to a quiet lunch over noodles where we could discuss adjustments.

Courtesy Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg

We decided to visit the Daitokuji Temple complex, comprised of 25 Zen Buddhist temples and monasteries, of which three were open to the public that day. Our guide taught us about the symbolism within each garden. We meditated where monks have meditated for centuries. We strolled the pine tree-lined paths through the complex. There were hardly any other people in sight. It was perfect.

“Should we go in one more?” our guide asked, almost as an afterthought, keeping her eye on the time.

“Sure,” we answered.

After removing our shoes and making a small donation, we proceeded to the garden, passing an elderly man in black robes sitting at a table. I remarked to my husband that he resembled my grandfather (who was not Japanese and who had died 23 years ago). But he had the same glasses, same eyebrows, same large forehead.

The building was similar to the previous Zen Buddhist temples in terms of its layout, but hanging on the wall of the inner sanctuary garden, we spotted the English translation of a poem that stopped us in our tracks.

A Song of Gratitude

The whole family, harmonious and devout.
Aware of debts to our parents and ancestors.
Revering nature, grateful for society.
Always humble, learning from others.
Able to give, demonstrating kindness.
Making one’s motto: “A bright life.”
Overlooking other’s faults, correcting one’s own.
Moderate in speech, not getting angry.
Gentle, kind, honest.
Let’s appreciate the joy of life.
Patient. Peaceful.
Not getting angry.
Careful in speech.
This leads to long life.

Courtesy Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg

It turned out that the elderly man we passed upon entering was the Senior Monk and the poem’s author, Soen Ozeki. He had not only penned that poem, but also several others on racks beside the table—all written in beautiful Japanese calligraphy. Six of his books were on display, as well, including one with an English translation blurbed by Steve Jobs. How ironic that as an author angsting over her new book, I would stumble upon a signing by a cheerful celebrity monk—the Dr. Ruth of Zen Buddhism, a man who spoke wisdom and helped people solve their problems on a weekly TV program. He spoke English well and had a sense of humor. He had a presence that defied age and emanated positivity, embodying the sentiments he professed. We took pictures together, although when he took his glasses off for the camera, he didn’t look as much like my grandfather.

Several of his writings resonated with us, and our purchases would likely put him over his daily sales quota, allowing him, as he joked, to take an afternoon nap. As we sat together, discussing his work, he smiled and laughed. Before we left, he looked into my eyes and, as if noticing something was a little off, said to me, “Be happy.” It was a moment that took my breath away: such a simple message after a happenstance meeting, but likely what I’d traveled ten thousand miles to receive.

Japanese house and lush garden

How the Japanese Tea Ceremony Mirrors the Author/Reader Relationship

On our recent trip to Asia I barely scratched the surface of omotenashi, the Japanese spirit of hospitality, but I did have the opportunity to participate in a tea ceremony which gave me a glimpse. As I lay awake that night combatting jet lag, I began to see parallels between the author/reader relationship and the tea ceremony. This might be the type of idea that only seems brilliant at 3am… but here goes…

Omotenashi

The concept of service or hospitality runs very deep in Japan, the core being that each human encounter is unique and that every moment is once-in-a-lifetime. Each meeting, therefore, is entered into with great planning and intention. The height of the practice of omotenashi is a traditional tea ceremony. I must thank my dear friend Andy Goldfarb for introducing me to this concept before our departure.

The Tea Ceremony

The interaction begins before the guest arrives – with the host’s planning. She takes great care with the aesthetics: selecting the tea service, arranging the flowers, hanging a scroll. The details may consume the host’s thoughts before the meeting, but they are invisible to the guest, done without any expectation for appreciation.

When the guest arrives, the host kneels in front of a shrine to prepare the matcha with prescribed movements. She takes the tea vessel in her left hand and ladles the perfect amount of water over the green tea powder with fluidity and grace. She then rapidly whisks the mixture back and forth (approximately fifty times) until it is topped with a froth just so. She bows before passing the cup to the first guest who also shows great humility and appreciation for the final product. The guest is even expected to enjoy the last sip of tea with an audible slurp.

foamy green matcha teaThe Ritual of Writing

As is the case with creating any art, there is a moment when the artist (or novelist in my case) begins to consider her audience. Revisions and edits to early drafts serve the piece, making language more clear, and conveying ideas with nuance and subtlety. Achieving refinement and simplicity requires the writer do more work. It’s not always what the host or writer does, but sometimes what she decides not to do that makes all the difference. Just like spending time selecting the correct tea set, the writer does not expect nor necessarily desire the reader to know everything that went into the preparation. It’s an unspoken contract between us that  immense intention was involved.

One of the most satisfying things about writing fiction is using my imagination as an instrument. I picture a cloud of energy forming then percolating in my brain, finding its way out through my fingers typing on my keyboard – sort of like whisking green tea into a froth? I work to perfect my craft, ladling just enough action to mix with character detail. When the final product is ready, it is my offering to readers.A house and garden in Japan

Readers take the vessel in hand and turn it, appreciating the cover art. If they are willing,they consume it, and voila: my imagination and stream of energy finds a path to theirs. If they really enjoy the book – and hopefully they do – they might finish with a big healthy slurp that sounds something like a five star review.

So like the master of the tea ceremony, working to tend the aesthetic of her tea garden, I sit down to write each day, aware that each sentence I craft is unique to this moment, and attuned to my experiences. I bow in humility to each reader who, like the guest at the ceremony, is willing to accept this version of omotenashi and drink from my cup.

A natural arc of red stone in front of a sprawling vista.

Passover Reflections on Moab

I’ve been back to BostoA vista of the red rocks of Moab.n for a couple weeks but there are images from Utah that I’m carrying close through this cold and grey New England spring.  Not really images, more like colors: white snow, blue sky, and green trees…. And then there’s the red.

We took a couple of days while two of our children visited Park City and made the drive to Southeastern Utah to visit Moab and its famous geologic wonders and national parks. Its red earth reflected the sun, mesmerizing us as canyon walls turned orange at times and at others,  maroon under a passing shower. We drove past geology that twisted into spires, spun arches, and bore canyons. We hiked and scampered and climbed like little children,  the silty red dust rising on our calves and sneaking into our shoes, caking even, under my fingernails.  We shed layers of clothing in the warm sun and when it set we luxuriated under the full moon. Moab was magnificent and if we could have stayed longer, we would have.  There was so much to see, to do. And even as I felt the pull to stay, there was satisfaction in just having made the trip.  It had been a crazy idea thrown out during dinner early in the week, heralding the type of enthusiasm on a Monday I expected to fizzle very easily by Thursday.

We drove back to Park City and then Salt Lake where people boarded planes, returning to school or on business trips. When my month in Utah was complete, I returned to Boston for a writing conference and getting back in the swing of real life.  Looking forward to Passover and in preparation for our Seder, I considered the significance of Moab in the Exodus story.  I should mention giving sites biblical names is common in Utah, as Mormons see themselves akin to Jews.  Not just because they believe themselves to be descendants of Ephraim (a son of Joseph), but in that their history of persecution and long search for a promised land mirrored the Jews’ wandering in the desert for forty years. And not only is there a Great Salt Lake in Utah similar to the Dead Sea, there’s an Eden and Zion National Park, a Jordan River and a Mt Carmel, …. So what was it about Moab that was nagging at me?

Interestingly, the word “Moab” is defined as either “of the father” or a “beautiful place.” BeFamily walking through the red rocks of Moab.sides being the birthplace of Ruth (one of my biblical heroines), it is also the last bit of wilderness where the Israelites stayed before entering the Promised Land. It is where Moses’ Exodus story ended, where he died and was buried, never able to enter Canaan himself.

Our touring party of four hadn’t recalled much of Moab, Utah’s namesake before making the trip from Park City. Thinking about it in light of our Passover tradition, however, I can’t help search for meaning.  Moab was the last place we would be together before going in four separate directions. It was a place we would observe a yarzheit, a place we would experience the super moon on the vernal equinox.  We all felt the pull to drive down there, I won’t go as far as calling it magnetic, but we were certainly on a mission. And I can’t forget that red, primitive earth, harkening the name Edom, evoking the birthplace of man.

For us, it was a moment when we united and regrouped before moving on. It was a place where we were allowed to act like children before entering the adult world again. It was a place to wonder and dream and remember, and also to recognize how small we are and how short life is.  It was a place of awe.