Looking Back on this Present

Hiking to the base of Castleton Tower near Moab, UT
Hiking to the base of Castleton Tower near Moab, UT

Hiking to the base of Castleton Tower near Moab, UT

Part of why I live in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado is that I’m close to the desert. I have a deep need to be near both.

I need to get up high on a mountain every bit as much as I need to immerse myself in the red rock desert – to pad my feet along its sandy trails, to scout for ancient dwellings, to see the miracle of water flowing through its canyons when the snow melts in spring, and makes its long, generous journey to lower ground.

Castleton Tower, from the road

Castleton Tower, from the road

I saw Castleton Tower as I was driving in on the river road in Moab, Utah this weekend, along the Colorado River. I was overtaken with the urge to hike up to its base. And even though its been 15 or more years since I first climbed to the top, I clearly remembered the little dirt pullout and secret grotto where the hike starts.

Sitting between Castleton and its neighboring butte, “The Rectory”, on a little fin of sandstone, I looked out over the valley with its Mars-like sandstone formations and the snowy LaSalle Mountains. There was little evidence of humankind in my view. There was only the ravens’ call and the leftover footprints of climbers. This quiet, with the silent red world sprawling out beneath me, is like coming home.

I think as human beings, how important it is to be able to experience such solitude. All heaviness of the world is lifted in such places.

The climb behind me, on the Rectory, I had done maybe 15 years ago with Susan Ward – a thin, tan, blond friend with a Georgia twang and a fierce strength. She had the ability to get up any finger crack in the desert. We climbed all over together, from Sedona to Utah to the Needles of California. We were completely free. Just some jobs we worked, and a very rich life of friends and adventures, and french toast with peaches on the camp stove.

Me and Chente, on top of his first big mountain

Me and Chente, on top of his first big mountain

That time of life was my biggest investment in my soul. A period where I lived fully on this planet. Without much responsibility. Just a strong desire for sunny rock, strong coffee, and road trips.

Looking back, it’s clear to me that I will probably also look back on this phase of my life, this parenting phase, and think how beautiful it is some day. And though I see the beauty now, I often get bogged down with the hard parts  – single parenting, trying to build an art career, trying to pay the bills alone.

Still, every day I have an awareness of just how sweet it is, being with my boy. Getting to raise him, getting to be close like this –talking every day, and helping him iron out his hard parts.

All the fun things we do, like skiing, sledding, swimming in the hot springs and camping. All of these things, are temporary. I know this. And despite the intensity of this time of life, I cherish it beyond words.

I know that I will look back on this time, and I will pine for this too.


  1. Kelly Jones says:

    Lovely post! I feel the same way about getting out in the Smoky Mountains on a regular basis, it’s a need. I’m a better, calmer, and more fulfilled person when I get out there regularly. As I’m starting to struggle with carrying a backpack uphill for longer distances, I treasure all the trips I’ve taken even more. I’ll just take shorter and flatter routes to keep my joints happy.

    • Kellie Day says:

      Thanks Kelly, it’s nice to hear from you. The Smokey Mountains are where I first fell in love with the outdoors, on a college backpacking trip. How lucky you are to be near such a beautiful range. Hope you can find a way to go lighter so you can keep up your hikes. Fortunately, there is so much beauty to be found even on short walks. Just to read Mary Oliver poems is proof of this :). Take care, and keep painting.

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