Walking the Spiral

My breath came ragged through my open mouth as I walked quickly up the slope. Dirt and rocks crunched under my feet as they walked along the narrow trail in the grass. Many other people had walked this path before me, as is to be expected when one goes walking inside a state park. None of those people were visible now. The parking lot had been empty when I pulled up. I’d intended to tweet a cheerful photo. “Look how beautiful Fremont Indian State Park is.” I’d taken the picture, written the words, hit send. No service. The park was in a canyon, hidden from cell towers. It was a dead zone. No one knew where I was. Howard knew I’d headed to southern Utah to pick up our daughter from college, but I hadn’t mentioned my intention to stop at the park. It had only been half an idea, something I was mulling over. I’d intended the tweet as a digital bread crumb, a quick note to let people know where I was. Instead I stood on the asphalt, wanting to seek out a place where I’d been before, wondering if I really should go hiking solo, knowing the trail was an easy ten minute walk, and finally deciding the park was a safe enough place. “This is how people go missing.” I thought as I took the first steps on the trail, but I walked up anyway. I was drawn there by a desire I didn’t fully understand. I promised myself I would turn back if I didn’t find the place in ten minutes of walking.

My children and I had stopped at Fremont Indian State Park on a whim in the fall of 2012. We were on our way back from a college visit where my daughter got to walk the campus and realize that she really did want to attend that school. All four kids were with me on the trip. I hauled all of them out of the car and made them walk trails with me. None of them were particularly thrilled about it at first. Slowly they began to enjoy themselves and we all rejoiced when we found the spiral built in a meadow. The kids ran their way to the center. I have a photo of the four of them standing there, triumphant. Even as we walked away, I knew I wanted to visit it again. The memory stayed with me. I thought about stopping each time I drove past the freeway exit as I traveled on trips to fetch my daughter or drop her off. “I really need to go back there.” The thought bounced around in my head. Each trip had a dozen reasons why I didn’t have time. Two and half years of driving past and I didn’t go back. Until I did, because on that day the pull was stronger. I’d had a rough few months. I was mired in depression, grief, and other emotions I couldn’t quite sort. I didn’t know what I needed, but I knew I really wanted to see the spiral again. So I stopped and I hiked. Solo.

The trail was clear and did not branch. There was no risk of getting lost. As I walked, I measured the land with my eyes. Did I remember this place correctly? I thought I was on the right trail. It seemed that I was traveling ground I’d been over before, but two and a half years had passed. I didn’t remember clearly. I wondered if the spiral would still be there or if it had been neglected. I was nearing the end of my ten minutes time limit and ahead of me was a rise. I told myself that if I couldn’t see the spiral from the top, I had to turn back. I didn’t want to, but every step took me further from where I was expected to be. I could feel responsibility calling me back to my car. My daughter needed me to help her load her things into my car and to help her finish cleaning. After that I was needed at home. I had responsibilities and they tugged on me as I walked upward.
There it was. My breath caught in my throat and I realized I’d been worried that I wouldn’t find it, that it hadn’t been real, that it had vanished like some modern day Brigadoon. I half wouldn’t have been surprised at that. It felt like a place that could just vanish. Or perhaps a place that could only be found by serendipity or need. On that day I found it. My eyes began to water as I walked the distance to the open end of the spiral.

2012 was before. It was before all the transitions that our family made stepping all the kids up, one to college, one into high school, one into junior high. It was before my younger daughter had panic attacks. It was before my older son began his long slide into depression. It was before we recovered from that. It was before I discovered that our recovery was a limited one. It was before my younger son also had panic attacks. It was before all the appointments, therapists, doctors, medicine, and meetings. It was before something in me broke, or gave up, or grew too tired. The person who visited the spiral in 2012 could honestly look her depressed son in the eyes and promise him it would get better. The person I was when I returned wondered if that was true. I wondered if I had been lying to him. I knew I had to keep going, taking the right steps, but somehow I’d lost touch with the belief that we could pull out of the emotional mire which kept reclaiming us. We’d seem to be out, but then the troubles would come again. My feet stood at the opening to the spiral. The last time I’d been here was before. I didn’t know why I needed to come again, nor why I wanted to cry at being there. I stepped forward and began to walk.

I once read about a meditation path in the center of a garden. It was a twisting walkway leading toward a center point. A person was meant to walk the winding path and examine whatever thoughts surfaced during the walk. I took a deep breath and as my feet walked, I opened my thoughts. “What do I need here?” I asked.
Walking a spiral feels like going nowhere. I passed the same scenery over and over. As I got closer to the center this was amplified, I saw the same things, but they went by faster. At the end I felt as though I were spinning in a circle even though the speed of my walking had not changed. Then there was the center. And I stopped. I sat on the log and waited. I took deep breaths. Birds chirped unseen. The wind blew past my face and lifted tendrils of hair. I wanted to cry again, but in the center the tears were happy instead of grieved. I sat there, feeling happy, feeling connected to the person I was before. It was the first moment in a long time where I could see that yes, we kept getting mired in the same emotions. We were seeing the same troubles again and again, but somewhere there was a center where the trip might begin to make sense. I just had to find the center. Then I had to work my way out from there. I sat for long minutes. I did not want to leave. I could feel my obligations and responsibilities waiting for me beyond the edge of the spiral.

After a time, I stood and walked my way out along the spiral. I saw the same things over again, but this time the more I walked, the more the sights slowed down. Then I was at the open end and stepped free.

Finding and walking the spiral seemed such a silly thing. I still don’t understand how so much meaning got attached to it. Yet in that step out from the open end of the spiral I felt like I’d left some grief behind and took something hope-like with me in its place. The spiral helped me remember that there was a before, and the existence of a before heavily implies that somewhere ahead of me there is an after. I just need to keep wending my way along the path until I get there.