On my first visit into New York City I instantly fell in love. Iâ€™d always blown through JFK with the quick connection, hurriedly moving on to other destinations. This time my itinerary gave me a full day and night layover so I caught the train into the crowded canyons of Manhattan — it’s actually very simple — to experience first-hand the things that make the material life full. The entertainment, nightlife, sights, sounds, and flavors – I found it all here.
However, the colors seem garishly bright and lights sometimes assault the eyes. A cacophony rings in the ears. The street vendor smells mix with everyday city odors to attack the nose. The twenty-four hour pace can easily overwhelm. This city thrives with an intensity switch always turned â€œOnâ€.
My visit to NYC was but a brief stop on a trip to Jordan. After the long flight I landed in Amman, the capital, and caught a bus south into the canyons of Wadi Rum. From the parkâ€™s visitor center, a caravan of jeeps transported me into a vast and silent desert where the colors were faded browns, reds, oranges, and yellows. In this empty place, I joined my Bedouin hosts, nomads who have a very different worldview from my own. They live lives without the material excesses I saw only days earlier. It was in these muted landscapes, silent and timeless, that I found the freedom and solitude that make the spiritual life simple. My mind slipped into deep and introspective contemplation that focused solely on the moment. Here it was so easy to flip that switch â€œOffâ€.
Iâ€™ve been home for a while now. The everyday pace of life, the responsibilities, and even social commitments have made me yearn for the simplicity Iâ€™d left in that desert. The memory of flipping that switch has faded, much like the colors of those canyons.
The other day a friend sent me a magazine article heâ€™d written about his experiences there. My thoughts instantly returned to the time spent together in that desert and how Iâ€™d found that switch. I thought of a place here, closer to home, where the unimportant could easily be turned off.
This place exists on the imaginary border of the â€œState of Jeffersonâ€ and in the heart of Outback country, an area of unspoiled beauty in the southeastern corner of Oregon. Steeped in the Old West tradition of doing your own thing by yourself in total freedom, this is a piece of the inter-mountain west that visitors only get to see and know when they do it on their own. A road trip through this lonely land took me up forested mountain ridges and plunged me deep into desert valleys filled by salt lakes and volcanic hot springs. Everyday life loses its primacy here and only important things shine through with clarity.
Soaking in hot springs I remembered the electric intensity of New York and the subtle pleasures of Jordan. As the sun dips below the horizon, my intensity switch is definitely reset to “off”.
Written by Steve Smith and Christine Johnson
Header photo: NYC Panorama by AngMoKio on Wikimedia Commons / Steve Smith (remixed by Steve Smith, all rights reserved)
NYC Street Scene: Steve Smith (all rights reserved)
Desert Caravan: Steve Smith (all rights reserved)
Winter Ridge, Oregon Outback: Steve Smith (all rights reserved)
Summer Lake Hot Spring: Steve Smith (all rights reserved)