By Travis Ehrenstrom

For The Bulletin

“The Pearl”

Dreaming of the past of a time before me.

Thinking of you know, beside me there.

Watching the horizon, dancing with the sun.

Seasons we are given, healers we’ll become.

What it is you wonder? Where you need to roam?

That road that you will travel is only yours to know.

Following the cairns through the arid canyon,

Thinking how a trail can become a home.

So many miles behind ya, you can see it in the stone.

This dancing desert shining, is only yours to know.

Breathe it in your day, Scream it in the night,

Life is but a story,

A pearl that’s shaped with time.

All the wind and rain

The fire and the ice

Dangled from a string

The pearl is shaped in time

Pictures on the wall long before my country

What is it we’ve done, and am I to blame?

Spirit on the water, dancing in the sky

The journey is a teacher, a pearl shaped in time.

On our way to Utah, my wife and I stopped to check out the well-preserved Pueblo cliff dwellings and mesa homes — dated from late BCE to 1200 CE — of Southern Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park.

During an evening walk with our dogs, we heard native drumming and singing in the distance. Following the harmonic trail these songs provided, we stumbled upon a guided ranger program: one of my favorite national park activities.

This particular program was very special as we were witnesses to the last “Bear Dance” of the season. After the program, Courtney and I started chatting with an older couple, Len and Tina, from Salt Lake City. Len is a retired park ranger who spent most of his time as the resident astronomer at Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park. Len and I chatted for hours about the state of discourse in our country, the purposes behind our creative adventure, music and, most notably, how to appreciate the stars.

I spoke with Len about how I’d been using a smartphone app to learn constellations on our trip, and he was adamant that I was going about discovering the stars the wrong way. In Len’s opinion, apps like this make us lazy and incumbent on a device for us to foster an understanding of the cosmos. This discourse shaped my experience in Utah for the better, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Len also suggested that we visit the Hovenweep National Monument in Southern Utah, altering our travel plans slightly.

The washed-out dirt roads and potholed paved roads of Hovenweep National Monument were the most tenuous we’d run into. We make a point to acknowledge when we enter/leave a state line, and our entrance into Utah was celebrated via a cattle guard border.

The trip to Hovenweep was worth the intense driving conditions and offered up Utah’s version of ancient native dwellings. The mostly agrarian natives to this region were active participants in the natural world around them and would pray to the sunrise each morning. Their connection to the seasons was so strong that their dwellings included windows that would illuminate during equinoxes.

After spending the day at Hovenweep, we ventured North to Moab, eventually setting up camp just outside of town.

One evening, I was walking near our campsite outside town and came upon 8,000-year-old petroglyphs. What astounded me most about these carvings was they were roughly 20 feet from the ground, on the side of a sheer rock face. The distance between me and these drawings served as a representation of the consequences of time, erosion, and gravity.

The sensation of looking at intricate sketches of Animorphs etched into stone some 7,400 years before the incorporation of the United States is indescribable. I experienced a sense that humanity in all forms is temporary, precious, and we are fortunate to bear witness to the passage of time, warts and all.

The experience of viewing these petroglyphs unlocked a primal sense. It was time to leave the comforts of Rosie (our RV) and sleep under the stars.

Thanks to the recent incorporation of Moab’s National Parks as Dark Sky Communities (and some tips from my new friend Len), I was able to experience our cosmos in new ways. The clear skies allowed me to gaze upon sienna hues of the Milky Way, observe Saturn and Jupiter and watch the moon illuminate the Colorado River.

The landscape of Utah and the milestone of having spent three months on the road has been a revelation. This trip has left a mark on my life’s story, and I am forever grateful for everything I’ve learned so far exploring America.

Utah’s natural beauty represents the slow decay of time. If you look closely enough, there’s magic in the passage of time and getting older. The dreaded wrinkles that appear on our bodies can serve as a reminder that we are here, that we have experience, and that we will continue to be shaped by living. The time markings we carry with us are the same degradation that has created magnificent natural Arches, deep canyons, and endless stars.

“The Pearl” is a reminder to me to appreciate the moments that shape our understanding of who we are in this world.

— Sisters native Travis Ehrenstrom, his wife, Courtney, dogs, Bo and Pinto, and cat, Nala, are on a multiyear trip to write a song in every state.