This is untoward, I thought, as I struggled to lift my clay-caked shoe from the narrow tract of trail and move forward. An obscene sucking, sploshing sound accompanied every three or four steps making what should have been a leisurely hike feel more like a soldier’s hump across hostile territory; streaks of reddish-orange gesso painted the cuffs and calves of my jeans. Maybe I should have stuck to looking for enlightenment in the spa like a normal person.
Two days before we arrived, Sedona was gifted with eight inches of precious, rare snowfall. A fact everyone we encountered underscored with big eyes and a serious tone to their voices. We’re from Boston, we said grinning. This was code for “we shovel eight inches in the morning before the heavy stuff hits.” The storm was severe enough to close roads, shutter businesses, and leave the faces of the great, red rocks freckled with white. It turned the many Sedona hiking trails into muddy, sloppy troughs resembling the dirt “streets” of nineteenth-century Gold Rush towns.
In the morning we struck out for the Airport Mesa Trail, a 3.5 mile loop that rings the tiny Sedona airport, offering panoramic views of Sedona’s rock formations greatest hits: Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, and Chimney Rock. It was also a vortex site, minor detail.
A brief patch of dirt served as a pull-out and make-shift parking lot at one of the main points to pick up the trail. By 10.30 in the morning it was already crammed with cars with more making their own spaces in single file along the steep, winding road that climbed to the paved lot at the end of the airport runway. To the right of the lot the Mesa trail began a gradual incline to meet with a slender ridge encircling the airport summit. To the left, a small series of plump rocks, like scoops of pudding, poured over each other to form a dome. On the map, a graphic of concentric circles seeming to pulse around a black diamond signified the vortex located in and around the squat hill.
I grappled up onto the rocks. Done. Check. I had read that in many of these areas the energy was so strong that the Juniper trees grew with funky, twining, twisty trunks. I spotted a few and felt smug and expectant. I took in the gorgeous views (the first of many, many I would drink in over the course of our trip). I made my way around the perimeter and took stock of my own smallness against the wide, sprawling mesa in front of me and the steep, sharp drop-off below me. I waited and tried to block out the other people roaming around the plateau—the chattering French family with their kids running around after each other, the couple loudly talking about hiking on their last trip to Hawaii, the father trying to get his young daughter to stand still long enough to take her photo. All this jive is messing with my frequency, I thought or I hoped because if there was any extra energy surging out of these rocks, I wasn’t feeling it, not even in an utterly forced way, like wanting to see the image in the 3-D picture so badly that you end up convincing yourself the horse is there, plain as the moon.
We climbed down and made our way up to the proper start of the trail. I stayed quiet, pausing every so often to take in the scenery and snap photos. Some of the path was still thick with slushy snow pack, other parts of it dissolving into treacherous pockets of mud, which grabbed at the heels of my new hiking shoes like greedy hands. This did nothing to improve my mood.
I was kind of pissed.
All I wanted was some kind of profound and immediate connection with the Source, some kind of molecule-jangling shift that would bring me three clicks closer to inner-peace and soul consciousness. Was that so much to ask? You mean to tell me, Divine Whatever, that this kind of thing takes time and intention and patience? Or am I just not cool enough for you? Is that it? Flashbacks of every awkward day in middle-school not invited to sit at the popular kids’ lunch table lit up my brain. Awesome. Who needs you anyway, Divine Whatever. You can keep your stupid energy and peaceloveunderstanding spirit-pa-looza. I don’t want to join your dumb club.
I knew I was being ridiculous, but I wasn’t ready to admit it. The storm in my head was enjoying itself too much. This is why babies love throwing tantrums: all that primal release without having to take responsibility for your thoughts and actions. It’s glorious and utterly satisfying. And exhausting.
The Divine Whatever waited for me to wear myself out, to quit throwing my toys (and this is why parents win every time). It got quiet everywhere, inside and outside of my head. The kind of quiet that you barely notice until you do and then it’s a quiet that is so loud.
You’re really, really OK, okay?
The steady, gentle voice that I’ve heard on a fistful of occasions.
I’d like to say I’m smart enough to clam up and listen, but I’m not, or at least not usually. I can’t pass up a chance to jam my two cents in.
We’re really OK. And you don’t have to try so hard.
Oh. And OH.
Radio silence. The same sense of space that happens in a room the first time you open a window on the first mild day of spring.
I crunched and slogged along the remainder of the trail not necessarily at ease, but less clenched, which felt like the right way to be considering I was on vacation, brush with the Divine Whatever or stubborn self-delusion aside. I felt OK, and sometimes that’s better than transcendent. Sometimes that can be the very definition of enlightened. Just to be really, solidly OK.
I shut up about finding the other Sedona vortexes.
And those curvy, slinky Juniper trees? I saw them growing everywhere we went.