Trying to write about solitude in a laundromat. People are coming and going, there’s Reggae music in the background, a backhoe digging up the alley behind the building, smokers at the backdoor and the cigarette smoke gently wafting into the building. The friendly attendant offers the chairs at the front entrance, a shady spot next to a lilac bush that has spent its blooms and a potted petunia. She does go tell the smokers to move away from the door. Here, at the front of the building there is a steady stream of cars, it’s the main road through town and the tourists are just getting started on this sunny morning.
It was one of the trails on the Parks Trail Challenge. I got a late start and it was a warm day. I thought since it was a Monday, that it wouldn’t be too crowded there as it is the most popular area in the park. Boy, was I wrong about that. I got one of the last parking spaces in the overflow lot. I put on my hiking shoes, grabbed my pack and set off on the trek.
At the trailhead there were small groups of eager hikers, some with small children, and a few others who didn’t really look like they were up for a hike labeled ‘strenuous.’ I made my way past the congestion and headed downhill. I was disappointed to see handrails secured to the rocks along the trail, and a small set of concrete steps in one section. It was a rock scramble and I guess they wanted to make it more accessible.
I stepped aside to let an older man pass by. He was walking with two hiking sticks and the younger members of his family had quickly come up the hill. He mentioned in passing that his two titanium knees slowed him down. I responded that he didn’t need to be quick, just steady, to finish.
I also saw a lot of people on the trail without water, wearing inappropriate footwear(when did flip flops become hiking shoes?) or dragging small children on a very strenuous trail. I was able to find a few moments of peace as I walked down the creek. As I made my way around to the west side of the trail I was welcomed with the sound of roaring motorcycles above. The trail parallels the highway that goes north to Hill City for about a half a mile. Sad face. Even though the trail was 100 feet below the road, the sound echoes off the rock formations, and then I got the sound of someone honking their horn as they passed through Hood tunnel. More sad face.
I sat and watched some rock climbers making their way up one of the granite spires near the lake. I am happy for people who feel the need for that challenge, I plan to keep my feet on terra firma in a horizontal position.
|just around the corner...|
I had some energy left over after that jaunt so I thought I would make my way to Poet’s Table. It’s a little known location off of the main Little Devil’s Tower trail. Well, not really little known, it’s just off of an unmarked trail. There are no signs pointing, ‘this way to Poet’s Table.’ I thought surely, it would be peace and quiet in a remote spot in the park. I had read about it, how it was set up back in the late ’60’s, tranquil with a beautiful view of the Needle's Eye and surrounding rock formations.
|Not all who wander are lost|
I had some trouble finding it, there are several game trails that lead up to it. I passed by a small pool of water fed by a trickle over a high rock. Just before this was a narrow slot between two spires. I thought that couldn’t be the trail, so I went to the left. That direction didn’t make sense, according to what I had read about getting to the table, so I back tracked down to the pool and went in to the narrow slot. There was a very rustic ladder leaning up under some precarious looking rocks, so it was one of the pathways. I climbed up the ladder only to be stymied again. A large, smooth boulder was to my right and a very rough, narrow steep passage was to my left. I thought, this is as far as I go. I can’t go up to the left, because I don’t think I have the energy to come down that steep section. But then I turned to study the boulder to my right. The pathway emerged, it was still a scramble over the boulder, but it was definitely the way. It led up to a dirt track, but still no sign of the table. Again my trail split. This time I chose to stay to the right, I’ll go another 100 yards and if it’s not there, I’ll give up. That was the right way to go, I passed around a small pine and there, nestled under an eave of granite surrounded by rocks was the Poet’s Table.
Four rough benches and a small wooden cabinet, all painted green, were there. The were three other hikers there too, but they were just heading down the hill, a different path than I had taken, so I had the place to myself.
The temperature was very cool in the shade of the rock, the morning sun not having had enough heat to warm the rocks to last the day and there was a breeze. I poked around in the old journals in the cabinet and one of them I flipped open and written there on the page was the phrase, “not my circus, not my monkeys.” I had never heard that phrase until I started working here in May.
|written here in 1997|
My first co-worker heard it here from another gate attendant. Neither of them were around here in 1997 when this was written down in this particular journal. Of course I had to look up the etymology of the phrase (good ol’ innernet again). It’s an old Polish phrase and generally means, not my problem.
We were told, when we started working here, to just pay attention to our own job and our own role here. Don’t concern yourself with what others are doing, their shifts, where they are working and how they are doing it. The neighbors use that phrase too, typically when we are discussing the lack of consistency and the shoddy way things are managed behind the scenes here. I started to think that whoever wrote that back in 1997 was maybe a dissatisfied park worker. Or maybe it was someone on vacation, who was venting their lousy job back home, or perhaps a reminder for anyone who might turn to that page to think before reacting in a situation they feel the need to be involved in. Say to yourself,
- What is happening here?
- Does it involve me?
- Can I do anything to help this situation?
- Do I need to do anything?
By asking ourselves these questions before getting involved we may be able to reduce some of the stress in our lives. As I made my inquiry, a few other articles popped up with this phrase in them. One written by a life coach and another by a psychologist working with depression sufferers. article from Psychology Today So it’s been around for a long time, and used as a simple way to remind people to think before reacting.
I spent another 10 minutes or so exploring the small space, the tokens left behind, the scribblings in chalk on the rocks.
|Needle's Eye tunnel|
I came to the conclusion that it’s time to move away from the advertised trails. As nice as they are, if I am to get the connection with nature that I am seeking, I need to find a different path. There’s no reason not too. There are so many places in this park, it is 71,000 acres, where I can walk that are closed off to the general public. Part of the management of the area has been to close old logging and service roads, not even allowing the jeep tours to use them. But if you know where they are, you can walk on them, or ride your bike.
Everyone has their own way of taking part in nature and getting away from the city. I don’t want to discount anyone’s choices. It’s hard to blend all the activities into these popular areas and by having these roads and well marked trails it allows for people who might not get out, to have a nature experience. I am glad that I am physically able to get away from the crowds and seek out a bit of solitude, even for a short time.
And it seems as though all of those distractions at the laundromat were a way to keep me focused. I feel as though my thoughts came together and made their way to the page with ease.
Not my circus, not my monkeys.