In early May, I ventured down to Kanab. I wanted to volunteer at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and take photographs. I went through many small, Central Utah towns on the way and enjoyed the common themes of nostalgia, humbleness, and simplicity. I stopped at a thrift store in Centerfield that also sold eggs. I chatted with the older man behind the counter. I bought an old Zeiss Ikon camera and the old man told me about his son-in-law, who took pictures of trees and flowers and things like that. The old man would never understand him.
I arrived in Kanab during the sunset hour. Kanab is a town of 4,500 and surrounded by red rock. The hill pictured below will soon be somebody's back yard.
My first day at the sanctuary, I chose to work with the Wild Parrots. I knew nothing about exotic birds as pets and I was kind of scared of the birds when I started sweeping the small room full of large, caged avians.
King O was particularly frightening at first look. He resembled a hairless cat of a bird, I couldn't figure out his species. As I swept, I slowly got braver and inched towards his cage. When I finally saw him up close, I realized he was a cockatoo who had plucked out over half his feathers. My feelings instantly morphed to compassion. I liked him immensely; he was a survivor and a warrior. He had lived a life of sorrow and was still around to squawk about it.
While many of the birds made me laugh with their silly antics, there's much sadness in that room. Willy, a giant red Macaw measuring in at nearly 3 feet, lives his existence in a cage barely bigger than him. His feathers were haggard and he exuded misery.
Years ago, in Costa Rica, I was sitting on a wooden platform built to extend into the Monteverde rainforest. We had hiked to this point and were all alone with binoculars and the jungle. We saw a scarlet macaw fly in the large, open air. It was the first macaw I had seen in the wild. As it flew from mountain to mountain, I admired the contrast of its quiet gracefulness with its bright, flashy presence of colors.
I have seen what the macaw's life could be like, it was beautiful. Here was Willy, stuck in a cage- sedentary, alone and neurotic.
I learned that these birds can live anywhere from 50-100 years! Many of the birds I saw were older than me. Because of this, they often go through 10 or more owners. People get parrots and find it logistically difficult to keep them. Birds often outlive their owners as well. They're forever orphans.
My volunteer session began with fear, but a kind volunteer leader named Stacy helped me overcome much of this by the end. She encouraged me to carry two mellow birds on my arm. I fell in love with one of those birds, Louie. Pictured below, Louie is a large, green bird. Louie was born with a birth defect of outwardly-turned back toes. As a result, he can't perch and the poor thing can only hang on the cage bars or sit on the cage floor. He hopped over to me as I fondly watched him in his cage. He put his head down and ruffled his head feathers. The employee said it's his signal that he wants a head scratch. I told myself I couldn't take home a dog, but I didn't say I couldn't take home a bird!
After my shift at the sanctuary, I drove to the southern part of Escalante National Monument and hiked to the Toadstools- another surreal Utah erosionscape. I only got a little bit lost, but found my way to a ledge that overlooked all the land.
Stacy at the sanctuary had given me two bright, green feathers- one each from the two birds I had handled. They were a symbol of overcoming my fears and the freedom that follows. As I sat on the Escalante edge, I looked at the landscape and looked at the feathers in my hand. It was a windy day and the rich emptiness of the land stretched for miles. I had the urge to let the feathers go, to honor the birds who were stuck in cages and needed so badly to fly.
I returned to the sanctuary the next afternoon to work with the horses. Jeremiah, the charismatic cowboy, led the group around to different stables on Best Friend's vast land. We spent the day shoveling horse manure in gorgeous red rock pastures. When we were finished, Jeremiah gave us a special tour to Hidden Lake Cave and secret petroglyphs.
We stopped to check the drinking water tub at an idyllic, green pasture with two horses. Jeremiah stared into the lovely field and reminisced. "My brother and I used to sit on my porch in the North Carolina woods. He once asked if I thought the beauty was the wind blowing the grass or was it the grass itself, moving with the wind."
I convinced Holly and Jonathan, my gracious hosts, to take me to the locals bar. We ended up at the Buckskin Tavern, a true cowboy bar, just across the Arizona border. I felt a little out of place, wearing my tie-dye leggings. I put a quarter in the jukebox and when Kris Kristofferson sang "Sunday Morning Comin' Down," everything felt okay.
I decided to leave early to check out the scenic byway UT-12. It was a day of weather and the drive was spectactular. Red Rock State Park was the first inspiring sight, pictured through my windshield below. Not too long after, I got to Bryce Canyon. It started snowing and hailing. At first, visibility was low, but so were crowds. With the white cover and blanket of fog, the canyon was mystically beautiful. I spent a few hours there, watching the weather come and go.
As I continued north, I was pleased to pass through a beloved town- Escalante. There was a lot of snow in the Boulder Mountains and I stopped many times to get out and take photos. I made it to Torrey that night and slept there.
In the morning, I visited Capitol Reef for a short hike on the Fremont River Trail before I headed home. It ended in stunning panoramic views in every direction. I sat on a rock, alone with the wind and the landscape.
Sitting on the cliff, Jeremiah's grass and the wind question came to mind, along with the answer. The grass and the wind exist only with each other. That is, that unspeakably beautiful moment can only happen when both parties are present. They make each other sparkle and shine.
I soon found the sparkle to my shine- fresh peach pie and ice cream at the Gifford House, where the hike ends!