This past year, 2016 has been declared the year of realizing things by the millennial sage Kylie Jenner. Hearing this at the end of 2016 brought to mind a series of events which I now realize are linked, and go beyond the short week I spent in the desert. This 72 hour journey begins outside of Moab where my two friends and I go to a campsite we had paid for earlier that day and found people who had set up camp in it. I volunteered to get out of the car and talk to them. They were snarky and explained that you couldn’t actually reserve the campsite at this campground. As a quieter person, as a Mid-westerner and as a Libra I avoid conflict so I meekly took this justification and reported back to my friends. They were not going to leave, they felt like they didn’t have to, they said we could crash in a corner of the campsite. We discussed talking to the campground host, but it was late and Jesse assert he “did not want to deal with those kind of people.” It was then I realized they had taken the campsite because they did not have to pay for it.
So we drove down the road and parked in a privately owned field setup for car campers. We set up a tarp to sleep under. It was windy and we soon realized that we had basically set up a sail. I couldn’t sleep with the loud flapping of the tarp, and because the full water bottles we were using to try and hold down the tarp kept lifting off the ground and swinging close to my head. After a few hours we bailed and slept in the car. Our plan was to either a) leave before anyone noticed our vehicle (we hadn’t paid) or b) explain our situation and hope for pity.
We did not wake up early enough to escape detection, and in a mad dash to leave we were soon overtaken by the owner of the field, Ann, in her green minivan.
While my two friends talked to Ann I, laying in the backseat covered by sleeping bags for no good reason, just silently listened. Ann had no pity for our story, even though she had, as she fully explained, her fair share of bad government experiences. She said they government had been taken land from private landowners to make a profit with campsites, and selling land to the Chinese for mining. In either case none of the locals were seeing the profits (Jesse and Liza halfheartedly agreed with her, while I tried to withhold a snicker). We found the claim she wasn't making money dubious. There were 30+ cars parked in the field and for 1-2 the charge was $20, for 3 people it was $25. The field had a few scattered picnic tables, a few fire rings, and 1 bathroom facility. Showering cost extra if I’m remembering right. So a well used area, with what seemed very little upkeep. As three college educated millennials we dismissed Ann’s angst and were unphased by her threat to give the license plate number to the sheriff, and promised to come back and pay.
We then got onto the main event of our day climbing Looking Glass Arch. My name is Alice, and while I was named after Alice Roosevelt and Alice Paul (two certified bad-asses) I like the idea of doing Looking Glass because of the Lewis Carroll novel. It’s been awhile since I’ve read the book, but Alice slips through the looking glass to get back into Wonderland.
The Arch is a straightforward climb, with the highlight being once you repel from the top you can make a swing. I repelled last, and so was going to swing first. Before explaining how to do it Jesse asked me “do you have an intuitive sense of this?” I did not, and felt fine about that. Were doing this a group of ski/climbing bros from Colorado/Utah stopped to watch me swing before they started the climb. I forget why they stopped (I think there was some reason) but in retrospect it feels a little gross.
In order to swing I had to walk backward and higher while in my harness connected to the top rope. Next you run and jump with Jesse holding the rope tight you swing backwards clearing the ground. I, propelled by the lyrics of “Formation” and the Alice-ness of the endeavor, ran and jumped and felt great. However we were using a dynamic rope, and instead of maintaining my height the rope stretched and I sunk lower. And then instead of clearing the rock ledge I had jumped from, I smacked into it.
November 9th was a similar experience. I felt the nation was running and jumping to shatter the looking glass, elect Clinton and enter a new stage of Wonderland. What I know realize is that I had been in a Wonderland land of private liberal arts school, communities that shared my values, and a president that reflected a step in the direction I wanted the US to take. I felt safe as a left of center queer women. Instead we entered a different kind of Wonderland. A Wonderland like Alice experienced. Donald Trump is our Queen of Hearts. The political pundits are speaking in ways that remind me of the Jabberwocky and I feel lost in an unfamiliar land. But Wonderland was not a place of comfort, but a strange and terrifying place.
In this new Wonderland Ann’s proclamations were deemed truth, ropes which I thought were secure stretched when I learned about the Russian’s involvement. No longer did I feel safe to run and jump into the a fantastic world, I felt instead like I needed to stay grounded.
That is not necessarily in the character of any of either of the Alice’s where I get my name from. Alice Paul was incarcerated for advocating for suffrage, and went on hunger strike. She waited so long to eat they eventually force fed her, An absurd and painful process. Alice Roosevelt lived an outrageous life, protected by privilege, and countered many expectations of a nice young lady.
There are lots of things that are learned while on the ground. You can plan your route, you can get a lay of the land, you can easily communicate with other. Rather than remaining perpetually on the ground I need to look for places and ways leaping can serve me. When are times that I need to make a change and the only way to do them is leap into the unknown? When are times that I feel burnt-out and I need the the exhilaration and joy of momentary flight? Maybe the supports around me are not solid, and I wind up bruised. That is a learning experience as well. As I recover I can strengthen those supports, and support others to take the leaps that lead to a world and Wonderland we want to see.