Thursday, January 26, 2012

Filler Up

Uhhh... okay, so I basically failed the first day of the week 3 mindfulness challenge.

I recorded a lot of my speech today, two classes and several phone calls later, I'm appalled. Even when I'm consciously making an effort to remove the filler words, I'm spewing them all over the place. It's like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time... in some cases I failed at all of it. In this random 10-minute snippet of today's noon class, I counted the filler... and this is trying REALLY hard not to say this stuff!
  • 'so' - 4 times
  • 'okay' - 6 times
  • 'um' - 8 times
  • 'now' - 3 times
  • 'alright' - once
And all that trying to speak words and words only, meant that my usual stutter-prevention system was off... and that during the same section, I stammered 14 times and cloaked the stutter with a pause countless times more.

Thus far, I've noticed a few things. I use filler words when I'm trying to BS someone (there's a little of that in this recording), unsure, or if I need to collect my thoughts before answering a question. When I clearly know the answer to something, or my next move, or I'm actively listening to someone else, I don't stutter or fill at all. During the periods of this class where I did my worst at controlling the filler words were the times that I know in my mind I was skipping ahead or thinking of something else, like how to disguise an error or shortcoming of the system I was demonstrating. When your mind wanders, your speech suffers. I'm exhausted and it's only day 1 of this week's challenge. I have my work cut out for me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Filler Words. Mindfulness Week 3.

Week 3 - Mindfulness challenge:

This week, through the mindfulness challenge, I am tasked to use no 'filler words'. These words are those that we fill in when we need to extend, add nonverbal weight, or procrastinate within a sentence... An example, "So, I was talking to my cousin, like, just the other day, and she, uh, she was working on this thing that is basically an art project, anyway, she like doesn't know what to do with the end product, or something." In this case, the italicized words are filler... they don't add any meaning to the sentence itself. We say them because they, like... they do something for us, anyway... the assignment is to identify them and remove them from our vocabulary.

Because of my line of work, I'm naturally sensitive to certain filler phrases. I have been cataloguing them for years, actually. It's somewhat of a tic, each time people say words or phrases that I find worthless in their speech, especially repeat offenders, I count the instance. It's so bad for certain people that I can't hear any of their message, and their phrases or words are in the quadruple digits of lifetime misuse. There is a trainer at work who says 'things of that nature' so much during her presentations, that I have never been able to watch a single training she presents without missing the message entirely, leaving only with a tally of "TOFTN's". It especially bothers me when people say things that are filler phrases, but incorrectly... for instance, I had a boss that used to say 'things to that nature' instead, a double-whammy. Not only is the phrase completely worthless, but it is more meaningless because it was repeated incorrectly.

Besides some OCD tendencies, this focus comes from a deep root within my development, since I have a stutter. Many people with stutters add utterances or sounds to their speech to cover the pause or stammer that is occurring on certain words. For instance, instead of saying t-t-t-traffic, I might say uh-traffic instead. I've worked very hard over the years to avoid these cover (filler) words, instead, adjusting the cadence of my speech to disguise the stammer with a pregnant pause that sounds thoughtful or natural. It doesn't mean I've eliminated filler words, just that I've adapted to the problem I used them to cover. So this week, to experience mindfulness, I'll examine speech, and find the words I use to say nothing at all. I spend a good time yapping thoughtlessly, so it should be quite a task. I'll start by recording a training I have early tomorrow and counting my own worthless speech.

On my list to remove, before ever listening to myself for this meaning:
  • apparently
  • so
  • like
  • absolutely (not filler, just overused by me)
  • uh
  • pauses
I challenge you to examine your speech, how much time do you spend making worthless noise? And who do you subject to mindless filler words? Do you use them more often when you're made nervous by your audience? Bored? Uncertain?

Our words communicate our entire being, our intelligence, socialization, interest level, confidence, and sometimes, our message (if we're lucky). Don't they deserve a little scrutiny to ensure we're communicating directly, not shrouding our message in verbal smoke and mirrors?

Good luck, like, seriously.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Leaving No Trace, But Making An Impact

This week’s mission to ‘leave no trace’ continues. I’m still trying to leave the kitchen cleaner and better than I found it. This means that everything gets put away and cleaned up each time I visit the room. I’ve found this surprisingly easy and satisfying, knowing that I’m leaving a clean space to come back to. The exercise has also allowed me to appreciate the impact that I have on the world, something as simple as wiping down the counter is a reminder of the stewardship I can offer this place. It’s creeping outside of the kitchen as well. Yesterday, we walked up to Starbucks and on the way home, I picked up a coffee cup on the side of the road that someone had carelessly thrown out. I don’t think that I would have been compelled to pick up the trash if it hadn’t been for this week’s mindfulness challenge. I am encouraged by my resolution to keep the one room clean, and feel like I can take a little extra responsibility to make the world a little better because I was here, even if it only means a piece of trash. I would have walked past the coffee cup and not given it a second thought last week, but this week I think, I’ve got a free hand, I can carry that trash home and put it in the garbage. That’s been the attitude in the kitchen too, instead of taking a dish to the kitchen counter and leaving it there to clean later, I follow through and wash it. It’s extremely gratifying. This stewardship is contagious as well, after I picked up the coffee cup, Tiffany felt compelled to pick up some trash too. Even just one piece makes a difference, a tiny change that is compounded by people who see you do it. Empowerment.

While we’re on the subject of littering, it occurs to me that the trash people throw out of their cars might say something about them. From cigarette butts to apple cores, the things people choose to send out the window are unique and possibly based on socioeconomic or cultural factors. For instance, if I littered, my garbage would most likely consist of BC powder packets and diet Pepsi cans. Since I don’t, there is usually one or more of these items behind my seat in the car waiting to be properly disposed of. Here are the items we collected on our way home yesterday, you can use your imagination to picture the litterbugs responsible. Maybe one of them was a yuppie late for work, tossing their latte cup out the window of their BMW, too self-important to waste any energy on finding a trashcan. Another, a late-night partygoer, careless enough to drink and drive, but cautious enough to discard the open container in case the police stop them. They all need to make a better effort.

This week's challenge continues on the road, I'm trying to leave no trace in the bathroom of my hotel room.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Left Hand: Fully Intact, Partial Success.

This week’s mindfulness challenge has been a learning experience to say the least… I am functionally a child with my left hand, as I have been brutally and constantly reminded. And reminded, and reminded and reminded. I feel like I’ve been reminded so many times this week that I have zero chance of survival without my right hand that I might take out a separate insurance policy on it. It’s been hard to live as a lefty. For instance, as I type this blog post, I am only typing about 20 words per minute compared to my usual 70. I have to constantly spur my hands on and remind my left thumb to kindly hit the space bar, please… (sometimes not so kindly) a function my right thumb is usually encouraged to do automatically for me. At the same time, since I’m concentrating so hard to space, the rest of my left hand stops working to help me pay attention. My left index finger seems to be so distracted that - not only can it not find the ‘b’ key, it has even stepped up a few times and hit the space bar on it’s own, as if it’s so exasperated waiting for my stumpy thumb that it steals the synapse from my brain and performs the task. Great, I have an impatient limb, what’s next? In fact, the space bar has been the most frustrating part of my current mindfulness task, but I don’t see this frustration as a detriment to my success because of a very strange shift in my consciousness. Instead of wanting to give up because I’m frustrated by this infernal lack of dexterity, I find myself turning to my thoughts instead… What specifically is frustrating me this second? Is it my lack of patience? What will an extra 10 minutes typing this blog cost me? Is it the clumsiness and lack of control? There isn’t a prize for the most graceful typing performed on this airplane. I have a strange sense of calm as I ask my mind these questions, as I observe the emotion and related thoughts, and instead of taking action… keep plugging away at the space bar with my left thumb. Remarkable.

I’ve seen some other tiny changes in the parlor of my mind, where all the thoughts hang out and normally get ignored while I zone out and go on vacation from the work of operating a human body… All week as I’ve eaten (sometimes with senior leaders in my company snickering at me) with my left hand, the self-consciousness of being awkward has been replaced with marveling at how my left hand – seemingly useless – has adapted to the work and constantly improved. I’m less aware of my perception of others while I perform these tasks and instead intrigued by examining and seeing them as they happen. Consequently, while exploring the angles of the left-handed spoon approach, I have been clumsy enough to drop pea soup all over my white blouse (can’t tell you the last time that happened) and then struggle to operate a tide pen to treat the stain.

It hasn’t all been frustration and spilled food, however… I have become a much better lefthanded mouse-operator. I’ve caught myself a few times reaching for a pen with my left hand because it was close, and then keeping the pen in that hand. It’s because of this increasing ease that I’m glad it’s time to move on to the next challenge. The point of this exercise was to access the perspective of beginner’s mind, one where no muscle memory or practiced routine could allow your mind to check out. If I use the left hand enough that it assimilates to the routine, I’ve gained the use of my previously worthless hand, but must find something else to focus my attention in the pursuit of mindfulness.

Surprisingly, with my left hand, I create more pleasing drawings. It could be the extra cognition I’m giving the task, or perhaps that the right hemisphere houses the creativity centers of the brain and plugs them directly into your reach… or maybe it’s the light touch and active listening my hand does in concert with the pencil. I don’t care why.

My handwriting, however, has been compared to both that of a first grader and a serial killer. In this example, I rewrote my notes with my right hand to compare, and was pretty surprised to see some similarities. It’s as if the left hand is a 6-year-old me (I am not a serial killer). A 'me' I have the opportunity to cultivate and exercise. I sure am glad I gave myself the opportunity.

This week's challenge is called 'Leave No Trace'. I have to choose a room in my house, I chose the kitchen, and for the whole week, leave it exactly the same as it was before I arrived. All things put away, only food smells and memories to remind me I was there. I think it will be useful, there are a hundred times a week it seems that I could make it all the way to the dishwasher with something but I leave it on the counter or in the sink instead. I'm looking forward to having clean counters. Also, I think it will give me a chance to appreciate the tiny things in my house that allow me to live my life this way.. each pair of chopsticks has a role, each surface should be respected, and even the garbage has a place in my life that I should appreciate. I'll examine them all.
Happy mindfulness. And Thursday & stuff.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Goodnight, internet, I wrote something for you on your day off:

I like to disappear quite much.
In a song, a poem, a moment,
To slip tawny espresso foam
Past my lips to the abyss beyond.

I like to be aware as well,
To feel, interact and influence.
To see my world, awake, alive
In this moment, this place, I belong.

The assignment, then, is to sneak...
Knowing and aware and awakened,
Just beyond senses, unnoticed,
At once, invisible and present...

And be gone.

Dr. King's Dream

I'm guilty of believing a little too much in American history. I read the headlines, but not the story. Today... almost 50 years after the famous 'I have a dream' speech, I find myself humming the songs I heard growing up, a little white girl in the south.

You may ask yourself, "Why would a little white girl sing songs such as 'I Shall Be Released', and 'We Shall Overcome' ", and the answer would be because my parents believe in the oral tradition, something near and dear to Dr. King, Jr.'s heart. The spoken word carried the gospel of his Lord to almost everyone in the new world, brought hope to early slaves and song to their heart with the stories taught in this manner. I love the spirit of change in the early 60's... concepts like race and class were new to the world stage, characters we hadn't judged a hundred times before. All of our fates were shaped by hate and the reactions to it and we reacted in childlike fashion. Just 50 years ago, we asked folks to kindly use a different faucet to drink the same lead-laden water that poisons our small towns today, no invitation required. We feasted on produce that kills everything in its path, but us... and argue(d) over the correct monument to the times in our past, like Dr. King, Jr.'s speech just before his death about being a living monument, himself -  having a dream.

Dr. King saw the end without fear. Sensitive to any perception, he even spoke of his own funeral, leading to the famous paraphrased quote on the memorial, 'I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness'. What I believe he meant during this controversial speech is that the change does not belong to one person, but rather, to the movement that carries those people forward, toward goals like justice, peace and righteousness. People carry this change, shoulder its weight and rhythm, but not the goal. Let us benefit from his awareness, the sacred view he held just before he was gunned down in Tennessee.

Dr. King, Jr. knew that the state of humans is suffering. We always suffer something at the hands of society or the fate of the universe. What was fundamentally different for Dr. King was that he refused to sit idly by as this fate was cast upon him and the people he loved, so he drew them into the cause. He taught generations of Americans that we can interact upon the course of the Universe. We decide. He made proclamations, which at the time seemed impossible, and in my short lifetime, I've personally realized this (among others) for the Dr.:
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I've seen the country clearer than anywhere else from the top of Stone Mountain, Georgia, where my parents were married before the area became public land. While I don't go about trying to prove the good Dr. King right, I try to live the best life I'm capable of... that's all Dr. King talked about all of those years ago.

There have been a number of times I've steeled myself against this speech, saying to myself be incredibly brave, like you can't possibly be alone, like Dr. King was. That sounds a little like rhetoric, but the truth is I've clung to his revolutionary spirit through my entire life, when there is nothing else to help me be brave, I ask for Dr. King's strength. I ask for that vision, for that faith, and for that commitment. I believe it takes little acts of this bravery to live life for even us normal folks, and if we believe in the right goal, and apply the correct commitment, we can be just as memorable - unstoppable - and poignant - in our age. I am continually inspired by Dr. King's work.

Badly, today, I try to sing "Oh Freedom", a spiritual Joan Baez sang during the March on Washington, in which Dr. King proclaimed to 'Have a Dream' about life in our time. I hope his work inspires everyone today, in spite of the crude delivery I give it. We owe it to our community to champion positive change.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mindfulness Challenge

After coming down from the extreme high of two weeks of roadtrip, I’m finding reality is a real drag… I decided this year I wouldn’t make any New Year’s resolutions since I think it’s a little of a joke to change your life because of an arbitrary date, but as it turns out, I have one after all: Be better. Be a better wife, friend, daughter, employee, listener, musician, writer, humanitarian, appreciator, artist, teacher, activist, human, just be better at all of it.

So I’ve been trying to feed myself as much as possible, mentally and spiritually. I started reading a book called How to Train a Wild Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays, M.D. It’s kind of a workbook of exercises in mindfulness, there are 53 of these tasks in total, and I’ve decided to do one a week throughout the course of this year.

The first of these exercises has been difficult, funny and awkward to complete. During the first week of my year of mindfulness, I’ve endeavored to use my non-dominant hand for tasks I normally relegate to my right hand. This means brushing my teeth, opening doors, turning pages, applying mascara, and a host of other mundane tasks are being handled by my left hand. I’ve been doing most of them for 30 years with the right hand, and it’s been ridiculously hard to do certain things. The concept is that if you bring more attention into your daily life that you will be more present, more aware, and more mindful. I don’t think I need to describe for you how exceedingly difficult it is to visit a public restroom with this club of a left hand for my only tool. Dexterity and ease are things I take for granted – for certain.
Just remembering to use my left hand is part of the challenge. I’ve been wearing a giant ring on my right hand so I have a visual reminder of my task, but there are so many things we do that are truly automatic, without looking or thinking about the hand that performs the task.
I still have a few more days to wield my useless arm as my primary tool for handling the universe, but I already have a few learnings to share. For instance, I have noticed a few times in this week when I have consciously performed tasks with my right hand in spite of my resolution to ignore it. Running late, my right hand can’t be beat for expediency. I don’t think of this as a slip, however, because the simple fact that I’m paying attention to which hand I’m using is proof of mindfulness. I know that I’m using the right hand and why – and this is the most important lesson. Teaching a class while mousing on my laptop with my left hand is frankly embarrassing, and I hope a week of it will improve my skills. Also, I spend a lot of my time on autopilot. Driving a car, eating, washing dishes, and surfing the internet are all tasks that I barely participate in, even though I’m in charge and just being aware of this ignorance is empowering. I invite you to join me in taking on a new task each week…
This is just week 1. Hopefully I survive this year with all my digits.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Home Now

I'm starting to decompress from the weeks on the road... so I'm working on a recap of the last 2, at least. Meanwhile, I'm busy with the mundanity of catching up on laundry, cleaning the house (which I left dreadfully dirty) and running errands.It's been great to eat, sleep and play on my own schedule, but I have to acquiesce to the home routine. Seems like the same place I left, alright... these are my clothes in the closet, and my art on the walls, but I think I'm looking at them with a slightly different perspective.

Some of it is actually different. For instance, we came home to 3 new pieces of furniture, one of which was in a box unassembled. No note. There is a curling iron in the bathroom that is not mine, and... perhaps the most curious - this note was on the coffee table, written on the back of a map I left behind. I don't recognize the handwriting:

I've been analyzing the handwriting sample... I have a guess as to whom the author is.

I'm grateful to have family and friends willing to put up with our cats reign of terror while we were gone. Especially those of you who had to deal with the many bodily fluids they used as weapons. Enzo says he's really sorry. As you can imagine, we took a lot of photos and we're going through them, so expect a full summary of the trip soon.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


We're now entering our final descent into Dallas/Ft. Worth, and all tray tables and seat backs are in their full upright and locked position. After a full day in Albuquerque, we timed our last leg of the drive so that we could catch the quadrantids meteor shower peak tonight from dark sky country, west of town. If you're up around 3-5am tonight, look to the north sky around the constellation Bootes. See this site for details:

Folks in the city will see fewer meteors due to light pollution, but those outside the bustle and hum should see up to 60 meteors an hour during the quads' sharp peak.

This is the last meteor shower until April, and the perfect finish to my walkabout. Expect a full recap, including details about my top-secret missions - soonish.

And happy birthday to someone special who is no longer with us... You're on my mind, as always. I know you've been on this trip with me like an angel on my shoulder. I love you.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Walkabout - Beginning the Long Journey Home

I'm headed home, and this is as close as we came to the Wave, my goal for the Utah leg of this trip:

Although I did have an interesting conversation with a couple of locals we met in Kanab, Utah at the vegetarian restaurant Laid Back Larry's. Valerie (the most honest small business owner in southern UT) and her customer suggested that the fine that they charge for trespassing on the Wave without a permit was not steep and worth it to see the Wave if you didn't make the lottery to get a hiking permit. I can't find anything that lists the actual fine, just a few forum websites that call it 'astronomical'. This is an idea for the future... as it is, my suprise from last Tuesday wouldn't have survived the hike today after the tough climb yesterday, it was wise to drive today instead.

Since we were out of luck for the Wave, we played around with some time-lapse as we left Zion, watch the background as we exit through the switchbacks.

Since our route home backtracked over something we'd already driven, we saw the other side of some really fantastic views and were able to prepare for them. Lake Powell is even more jewel-like from the West:

We passed through a part of northern Arizona near Bitter Springs that looks out on the valley above Lake Powell, this time with the time-lapse turned on... this is amazing:

After that, we passed the rest of the state of Arizona in the Navajo and Hopi nations, in big stretches of open terrain, surrounded by strange little outcroppings of rock. Some that looked like bricks, some that looked like chewed-up chewing gum.

Parts of the countryside appeared to be flat until the road turned and opened unto a huge basin below the blind plateau.

It seemed like the entire state was populated with roadside jewelry stands and prefabricated housing. There were many sad-looking homesteads. We passed into New Mexico just after sunset, which we caught - for the first time this trip - in the rear-view mirror. This was the first day we weren't headed north or west.

We made it to Albuquerque long after dark, and plan to putt around here in the morning until we have to head east again. Many more hours of driving before we are home, not that we really want to get there before we have to.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Angels Landing

I didn't make it to Walkabout goal #2 - the Wave - today... but I did experience 'life elevated' here in Utah, so to speak. This morning, we set off up one of the best (and deadliest) trails here at Zion, Angels Landing.


The trail is relatively short, only 5 miles round-trip, but during that short time it climbs and descends again about 1500 feet from the floor of Zion Canyon. From the canyon floor, people on Angels Landing look like ants.

Having spent most of my time hiking in state parks and rugged areas, I really appreciate a well-maintained trail, even if I can't ride a bicycle on it. Up the side of the mountain we climbed, with switchbacks and cut-throughs making the climb as easy as it could be... after all, I'm about 5000 feet above my home in Dallas here.

There are distinct zones of climbing on this journey, one section is on the front of a sheer cliff face, cut into long swaths with moderate inclines. From here, as I caught my breath, I watched a falcon ride the thermals up the canyon, looking for food. I was really dying, I'm not sure how I could look so much like a fashion model after this climb, but Bart's a genius.

The next section is through a high canyon, appropriately named 'Refrigerator Canyon'. In here, it's dark and cold and you walk to the back of the mountain to approach the summit.

After your chill-down, a few switchbacks lead you up to a part of the trail called 'Walter's Wiggles'. It's the Lombard Street of hiking, 21 bricked switchbacks taking you vertical for a few hundred feet.

At the end of the wiggles, you find yourself in a clearing called Scout's Lookout. You can see the canyon from both sides from here, across to Observation Point (another trail). I am definitely still uneasy with heights, and photos wouldn't do justice. Check this view out:

Although my spirit is clearly not broken, my foot still is, so we did the smart thing and didn't continue across the ridge of Angel's Landing to the terminus of the trail. This little ridge has claimed 6 lives in the past 10 years because it is narrow, slick and violently steep. Only a chain rail is available to lead you over the last half-mile of the trail. Instead of continuing that way, we walked up part of the West Rim trail above Scout's Landing and got a pretty decent view without dangerous climbing. Stupid foot, I have to come back and do the rest of this trail.

From up there, we could see both the west and east sides of the canyon.

Angel's Landing looks a little like a camel laying on the floor of the canyon... the head is in the left half of the frame, the humps are the treacherous back where people have fallen to their deaths.

We met some folks and parted ways with them at Scout's Lookout, but were able to see them from the West Rim. We shouted across the canyon at each other.

Coming back down, there were a few views we had missed, so we captured them. Where's Bart?

And here's a little taste of descent for you. Time-lapse of the trail down. First, the section before refrigerator canyon, then the section down the front of the cliff. Pretty cool. Part 1:

Part 2:

Tomorrow, we'll try to get our permit for the wave as we begin our long journey home. If there aren't any left, we'll continue straight on to Albuquerque, NM. I'm really hoping that 2 of the 20 daily permits for the site are available and we can hike it before heading to New Mexico.

I Can't Breathe From Gasping At So Much Grandeur

I am awestruck. I was utterly unprepared for how beautiful Utah is. A damn sight better than their sign would have you believe, that's for sure.

We left early (for me) this morning from Flagstaff and headed toward the Grand Canyon. I heard it was something I should see while in this part of the country... and while I agree it is remarkable and bigger than words can describe, it didn't move me the way the rest of the day would.

There were some unexpected parts of the canyon landscape... for instance, I didn't expect it to be as hard to see across as it actually is.

Let me explain... UV light causes a particular type of haze during mid-day that makes it impossible to see far away terrestrial objects without a film of purplish haze over everything. This is the reason distant mountain ranges always look purple-gray. The other side of the Grand Canyon is so far away that it is hazy and hard to refine with your eyesight. I also didn't expect the south rim to appear abruptly in a forest. You're driving through trees on twisty roads and all of the sudden - BAM - canyon.

I'd like to be moved by the vast wonder of the Grand Canyon, but for me, it was just a huge hole in the ground. I probably would have enjoyed hiking down and beholding the canyon from its floor... but winter was in my way. In fact, there were many parts of the canyon still covered in snow and the surrounding forest floor is still white.

The most entertaining parts of the Grand Canyon visit involved some humongous brazen birds that were stalking us like prey.

We ventured on toward Utah by way of Page, Arizona... a small town on the shores of stunning Lake Powell.

Had this trip been 3 months instead of a couple weeks, this destination would have been on the list. Some gut-wrenching curves in the road and roller coaster-style vistas off each side later, we found ourselves descending into a valley surrounded by mountains and beautiful sandstone canyons. Lake Powell itself is a jewel against the red backdrop of the Glen Canyon area. We stopped and had lunch here, above the dam.

As we left Page, and Arizona behind, I suddenly had the feeling we were heading toward a place I didn't know much about... but that would be unforgettable.

The landscape changes drastically from the barren red rocks of northern Arizona and washes out into massive pale cliff faces in southern Utah. I'm sure this must be what parts of Mars look like. No trees, no vegetation but scrub... nothing to detract from the buttes so big they hid frozen rivers in 60-degree weather.

In fact, as I found, this is the norm in Utah. As we crossed the state westward, the features evolved from blonde hills to sharp red steppes, canyons and dunes. I was fully entertained by the changing backdrop, as we ventured into stranger and stranger territory. I felt as if I were on another planet... no houses, no exits, no lights, just rock and brush against the sky.

I don't plan much, but there were a few goals on this trip... one to see Sedona, which we did earlier in the week. Another, to hike Coyote Buttes North to 'the wave' here in Utah. My haphazard research made me think this hike was actually in Zion National Park, so we booked their New Year's Eve package with intentions to hike New Year's Day to the wave. It's apparently a little more complicated than that and we'll have to get up really early to finagle, but in my carelessness, I landed us in one of the most surreal places on Earth I've ever seen.

I'm really not sure it is on Earth, since the terrain is so foreign and bizarre. We drove through the park just before sunset, descending a good 2,000 feet to the base of the canyon, where the sunset and all other light is obscured by the titanic cliffs around us.

Around the switchbacks and tunnels of Zion's road, we wound west toward the lodge, where we are now... and the strangest thing happens here... if the moon is out, the shadows of the canyon walls are like gigantic monsters looming over the base of the canyon, reflecting an ink-black shadow at us, obscuring the stars.

We're even accompanied by some alien wildlife, like this trio... don't look directly into the big one's eyes, he'll turn your brains into mashed potatoes.

Again, if the goal for this trip was to feel small, mission undoubtedly accomplished. Tomorrow, hiking southern Utah and relaxing in the shadow of the chasm we're in. Happy birthday to my brother, Patrick, and happy new year to everyone... I'm looking forward to starting it off in this extra-terrestrial part of the world.