The Road to Zion

I moved away from home several years ago. I went first for college, then for romance, and then I threw myself out an open door. My father bid me farewell in Mobile while my mother brought me to Miami. She helped me settle in and then waved goodbye with trepidation in her heart. During the last five years as a Southern-Floridian, I have kept in contact with my family just enough that they knew I was alive and managed to make it home for a handful of holidays. The absence has weighed heavily on us all.

I spent the better part of a decade all but estranged from the entirety of my family and ostracized from the country at large. There is only so much to feed the soul in America’s southern peninsula and I craved reminding that ours is a land with a breadth and scope that can inspire even the staunchest of hearts to joy. Thus a plan was formed in which my parents would transport us cross-country from Miami all the way to LAX. They being my kin, I knew I needn’t ask, though my mother frequently reminds me it would have been nice if I had. This would mean nearly one month of uninterrupted time with my Bear and the two people responsible for my genetic makeup as well as a large part of my world view, my beloved parents. Once my mother warmed to the idea of a road-trip a la yesteryear she took over the planning of our journey to the tune of three color-coded folders worth of maps and details. Bless her to the moon and back. She took the weight of the planning so that the rest of us could focus on bonding and exploring. She is a marvel.

During our final days in Miami, amidst the whirlwind of moving from our first home into the bedroom we will share upon our return, my parents arrived. The bottomless hospitality of the Sosa family enveloped them as well and we found ourselves part of one household for the first time.

Days passed in blur and confusion leaving us to load the car at the very last minute. My father looked at the pile of luggage and let out a soft chuckle, no doubt imagining us trying to toddle around Melbourne so encumbered. He gave me the sort of look only a father can achieve and grinned at my shrugging shoulders. We bid an emotional farewell to Jorge’s parents who were doing their best to handle illness along with the emotion of saying goodbye to their youngest, a pain my parents knew too well. Mothers and fathers the world over know that watching the youngest child leave home carries a special sadness. It is the final farewell. It is a blade sharpened by the whetstone of previous adieus taking its final plunge before being ripped mercilessly from the wound of grief. It was no less for my parents than any other, though I dare say they took it in stride. After a few tears and some rib-cracking hugs we climbed into the car and headed for the city I will never not think of as home.

I grew up on the outskirts of town in an area affectionately known as West Mobile. Closer to Mississippi than Mobile Bay and all the better for the acreage that distance provides. A humble home sheltered by fields of cotton and pine helped shape who I am. The sound of night in my memory is a choir of cricket song laced with creaking oak and the rustle of leaves. While the country is peaceful it is hardly quiet. I passed many hours running barefoot through the yard watching day turn to night and welcoming a million or more stars whose glow cast the only light for miles around. There is a towering maple in the backyard whose branches thrilled me as I climbed to the peak and swayed dangerously with each gust of wind. The same maple whose boughs later betrayed me and made me the only member of my immediate family to ever break a bone. There is a place behind the house just near the tree-line where my mother made a bed of blankets in the dead of winter so that my brother and I could stay warm as we watched meteors trace their fiery arc across the sky. There is a pine blackened by the indiscriminate rage of a fire set too close to its trunk while burning leaves, it has never ceased to flourish. This is the home of my youth.

Mobile itself has changed in my absence with differences pronounced less subtly at each visit. Street corners that were once familiar are no longer. Storefronts have changed hands so often that I can no longer trust in my old landmarks. My high school peers are now shaping the city in ways previously unimaginable. The structural representations of a growing metropolis have come so far as the end of my street. Some trees have grown taller while others have disappeared entirely. In the field across the way an abandoned barn has finally lost its battle with the kudzu and now lays entombed in leafy green. My parents took great care to reintroduce me to our city pointing out areas of pristine natural wonder overlooked in my youth. It is an enchanting city to be sure and much less mine than it once was. We spent a week here decompressing from our years of toil and self-deprivation. On the final evening, I stood barefoot in the front yard listening to the roar of night. Jorge wrapped his arms around me, Fiyero sat patiently at our feet, and together we pondered the many ways that time and distance change us.

From Mobile, we made our way North and then West blazing a trail to the coast through the formidable heat of an American summer. Tennessee to raft the Ocoee. Atlanta to visit family. Houston to celebrate a birthday with Poppi, our last familial patriarch. Austin to embrace my long lost friend. Roswell to learn about UFOs. The Grand Canyon to gaze into the depths of majesty. Zion National Park to commune with the spirits of the West. Barstow, so I might know where I was born. And finally, Los Angeles where we might take our leave.

Zion, in particular, imprinted itself upon our road addled, adventure-starved minds. We drove in at night under a heavy blanket of stars. Switchbacks and darkness slowed our progress. Soaring cliffs surrounded us and the roads began to twist and curve. We rolled down the windows and breathed deep. The air was heavy. The palpable scent of summer foliage made crisp by fall of night filled our lungs. Nearly three weeks en route left our legs cramped and aching for the opportunity to stretch and lope. Morning held the promise of open spaces and hours of physical distraction. The night still simmered with the heat of day and we tumbled lazily into our beds. We lay our bodies to rest, brows rimmed with sweat, and waited for morning to come.

The sun gave rise to a day hotter than that previous, but we would not be deterred. We ate a hearty breakfast and headed into the canyons. The feeling of Malaise that had gripped us since Roswell slowly released its grip and excitement electrified our limbs. We headed, light of heart, towards the gates of Zion. Sunlight lent a grandeur to the canyons. The colors are unbelievably intense, walls of coral stone amid waves of amber and champagne. Like her sister canyons a little further south, it is a landscape that hails from a time before and a time to come. The endless wash of visitors has little effect on the majesty of Zion. I commend the park system for taking the time to care for and preserve the trails and the wilderness areas nestled inside the park borders. Care has even been taken to ensure that the paved roads are comprised of a burgundy bitumen that complements the nature of the reserve. The effect is truly stunning.

Among the many walking trails housed within the canyon walls is a path of particular renown, the Narrows. It was this path that called to us with such allure. After traversing the majority of its length, it still does. The Narrows are known for their ethereal beauty, cold waters, and flash floods. The trail itself is one with few equals. The first hour or so on foot is the least rewarding as you share it with the masses. If you can block out the screams and shouts that accompany so many swarming bodies you will revel in the crystalline waters as they ripple over a veritable cobblestone path. Footing is treacherous as and each step requires your full attention. Eventually, the throngs begin to subside and whether from exhaustion or boredom they turn back. It is past this point, a boulder late in the path which requires you to scramble or swim past its boundary, that you find what you hoped you would. The canyon walls close in closer and there are only a handful of people in sight.

Outlandish quiet is your companion for this length of the journey. Occasionally the hoot or howl of some jubilant explorer will reach your ears but it fades before you find it The sun high above you paints the canyon gold and bright. If you are at all like us you will find yourself deep in the canyon’s thrall without knowing when the change occurred.

Ever forward. Ever onward. The river beckons with a whisper. One more corner. One more turn. Naught but sounds of wind and rushing water.   A splash of green. A wall of moss. An alcove offering shelter. Lay a hand upon the wall for guidance to find it cool where touched by shadow. Feet fumble for purchase on pebble, rock, or boulder where each is smooth from long exposure.

The path is long and you may grow weary. The canyon does not fail to provide. A large fissure in the rock just large enough for two. Boulders scattered aplenty with space for some lucky scrambler. Fallen trees twisted by the force of flood form welcoming nests. This is a place that invites magic back into your life. A place that widens your vision as the pathway narrows. Jorge and I did not make it to the very end. The water began to rise and the promise of night whistled through the canyon pushing us back towards land. We emerged from the Narrows physically exhausted and mentally refreshed.  

Our visit to Zion served as the embodiment of everything I hoped would lay ahead. Heartbreaking wonder. Communion with nature. Moments that can live in memory forever without losing their shine. I remember those crimson walls and the image they called to mind a distant continent and a sea of red sand. The short reprieve from vehicular travel revitalized me and when we all returned to its confines it was with the end in sight.

I want to extend my undying gratitude to both of our parents for this trip and many things besides. The Sosas and McClures that came before have given us the ability to stride forward now. We are strong because strength is what they taught us. We are prepared because they showed us the way. We are ready for anything because they believe in us.

We arrive at the airport. We board the plane. We cross our fingers and hope. Here’s looking at you, Melbourne.