Canyonlands Journal
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Caught Out

“Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.” ~ Cervantes

Reader. You've caught me here, cowering in a tiny spot of shade at the bottom of a 1200-foot-deep canyon, in the only shade I've been able to find while hiking back to my truck at the top. The temperature is 105 degrees. Well, I admit that a thermometer would say that it’s a mere 85 degrees. But I’m a poet, so I get to embellish a bit and I added 20 degrees to represent the fact that I feel as if the sun is caroming off the canyon walls like a fiery cannonball.

You, reader, are likely thinking that something is wrong here, that were I a John Muir, Henry Thoreau or Edward Abbey, I'd be likening this place to the eating of a succulent peach. And yes, when I squint through the undulating heat waves, I can see that twisting cottonwood, its yellow leaves backlit, looking like a bursting roman candle. That is, when the sweat isn’t stinging my eyes shut.

And perhaps you're thinking, “Wimp! It’s a privilege to see these wonders. Why aren’t you composing a haiku!”

I can’t help but ask: “Is it your head that’s on fire? And where exactly are you while calling me a wimp? Likely sitting in a soft chair watching football, munching chips and sucking down an ice-cold beer.”

Damn it, so I'm not Ed Abbey. But credit me this – at least I'm honest. Did Abbey, Muir or Thoreau never have a bad day outdoors? Did they never cower, never fill with self-doubt, never liken the desert to Satan’s bowling alley? Could they actually have enjoyed these biting gnats that are delighted to have me sharing their shade?

“Why does it matter?” you ask. It matters because there is more than heat, gnats and lack of water thrashing me. My ego is hurting because my spirit isn’t filled with the joy of nature and I haven’t penned even one haiku. So I'm wondering, What’s wrong with me?


Perhaps it would help if, like a marathon runner, I could anticipate a group of bystanders cheering me as I step over the finish line – particularly if they were like the cheerleaders I remember from college. But instead, late tonight when I arrive at the top, I'll be greeted by darkness. If my truck, Rocinante, feels like me, its tires will be flat.

Ed, John, Henry, why not let me feel good even though I've had but a few brief moments of wonder during my eleven-hour ordeal?

Issa, mentor-friend, it’s your words, not theirs, that nurse my wounded spirit.

listen, all you fleas,
you can come on pilgrimage, okay,
but then, off you get!

~ Issa, trans. D. Lanoue

Published in Ink, Sweat & Tears, 2004

Issa is the pen name of a Japanese monk and poet who lived in the eighteenth century. Though his real name was Kobayashi Yatarô, he chose Issa (Cup-of-Tea) as his haiku name. He called himself "Shinano Province's Chief Beggar" and "Priest Cup-of-Tea of Haiku Temple." The traits that distinguish Issa are his folksy and humorous style and what Lewis Mackenzie called "a cheerful and endearing interest in the smallest matters of daily life" (The Autumn Wind: A Selection from the Poems of Issa, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1957, 1984, p. 7). (click here for an Issa Website)

Most readers will be familiar with the writing of John Muir and Henry Thoreau. While most folks who hike the southwest know Ed Abbey's work, if you don't, I suggest that you read his collection of short stories, Desert Solitaire.

Rocinante is the name of Don Quixote's horse.