Chrono Synclastic Infundibulum

Holly and I will be in Chicago later today. (This was true when I started writing this.) I hear that Tate is too big to nap on my chest any longer. I will test that, of course, and probably refuse to accept the results. Tate is almost 1 year old, and I’ve really missed him – and everyone else. But that’s ok. All of this is happening exactly as it is. A few weeks ago, the van started making funny – as in bad-funny – engine noises. After getting a reasonable diagnosis in Barstow, CA, we decided to do the repairs in Chicago, 2,000 miles away. It was an odd plan, but had many upsides, including the long shot chest-nap. As I do, though, I started to apply my brain to matters and quickly stirred things up. I viewed this leg of our journey as an interruption or departure from what we had talked about doing. I thought on this so much that I couldn’t think of a word for it. I even used the dictionary.

Interruption – This was obviously too harsh. It presumes some elegant undertaking of ours that someone dared intrude on. We’re not organized enough to be interrupted.

Intercession – I thought this was correct, but it’s unrelated.

Intersession – This popped into my head, but it made me think of taking a college class in January. Nope.

Interregnum – This made a brief bid for the right word, but no. It speaks to chaos and disorder. That wasn’t what we were experiencing. 

My brain (it can get loopy in there) made its way to something I read as a kid, Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan. I was in a 

Chrono Synclastic Infundibulum – This is it: a state of being able to see in the dimension of time, seeing things as they were, as they are and as they will be all at once. It also allows conflicting things to all be true. I realized, finally, that this was simply what we were doing, and that was that. It takes me a while sometimes to see what is in front of me.

As much as we have enjoyed the last several weeks, I did have the background truths of engine trouble (we have twin turbos on the engine, and they are know for exhaust manifold leaks and worse), weird extreme weather everywhere, and a really long trip ahead. I was a little scared of the situation, yet able to take in the warmth of people and places. More than one thing was happening, and my conflicts were present. That was that and we were going down the road.

Rainbow in Anza Borrego, reminding me that tough things can have beautiful outcomes

After returning from Mexico, we confronted snow and cold, more than what we had prepared ourselves for. Finding Anza-Borrego Desert State park in California was just what we needed. A fellow we met in La Paz had told us about it and it was just what we were looking for. It’s vast open desert protected on the west by sturdy mountains with plenty of free camping. We hiked to a palm oasis, saw the beginning of the wildflower superbloom, found ancient petroglyphs and came within a few feet of a herd of bighorn sheep.

Bighorn sheep in Anza Borrego Desert SP

We had made plans to meet friends we had only fleetingly known last year in Chattanooga. This is how it goes sometimes. We meet nice folks and somehow stay in touch. So, we headed toward Death Valley to meet John and Tamar. En route, though, the bad-funny engine sound was getting worse. I stopped in Barstow, CA for someone to check it out. The vultures at the Ford dealership looked at it for 5 minutes and said: We see what’s wrong. We have to replace everything related to the exhaust system for $11,000. OK. Another shop said bad waste gate on driver’s side turbo. Expensive to fix, but you can make it to Chicago. We’ll see.

Our spot at free dispersed camping in Blair Valley, Anza Borrego Desert SP in California

But in the moment, we were headed to see John and Tamar. John and Tamar are quite simply good people. They are brave and kind and truly in love with living on the road and all that entails. His own travails of trailering and traveling helped me settle and accept that what I was experiencing was simply my journey. Plus, they drove us around Death Valley in their truck. What a place. It was wonderful to make a good connection with John and Tamar and to share Holly’s birthday with them. We’ll certainly see them again.

John, Tamar, Holly and me in Death Valley, NP, California
Holly, appropriately, at the Artist’s Pallette Trail, Death Valley NP
I’ve said in the past, and still feel, that the open western sky is as compelling as any landscape

It was hard to plan our new trajectory to Chicago. Being Springtime, we thought we might take a northern jog and then use I-70 or I-80 across the Rockies. That was dumb. We went north a couple hundred miles – as far as Cedar Creek, Utah – only to realize that we were at 6,000 feet and it was 20 degrees and snowing. We turned back the same couple hundred miles and rethought things. It looked like Vegas, down to I-40 and across to the Great Plains and up to Chicago made sense, and that is what we have done.

Still, I had to be open to the enjoyable moments as they arrived. It’s hard to retrain the brain to be less about the outcome – selling your soul for an imagined prize – and more about the moment (or realizing you’ve been infundibulated and it’s all the same), especially with the engine whining. But that is exactly what made Chloride, AZ such a welcome stop. We pulled into town, a few miles up a bad road off US93 south of Hoover Dam (ugh). The town has an odd vibe and unexpected accoutrements. We stopped in at the library – it was the most official looking place – and met Robin, the librarian. She assured us it was fine to park out back. She has a hankering for van life herself, so she and her husband popped by the van after work to discuss things. But the town – it’s and old mining village which has managed to hang on since the decline of mining in the ‘40s – had remarkable offerings. Holly and I hiked a few miles up into the hills above town to see giant murals done by Roy Purcell, starting in 1966. There’s a charming restaurant with a huge mural rescued from a casino in Las Vegas, an old-timey historical reenactment space (closed when we were there) and free range livestock. 

Parked behind the library, Chloride, AZ
Yesterdays Restaurant, Chloride, AZ

The gallery above shows cliff murals done by Roy Purcell up in the hills above Chloride, AZ. These are circa 1966, and have been updated in recent years by the artist and his sons.

From there, we had to make time. We hit I-40 to go east. If getting hit in the face is a road, it’s I-40 from Kingman to Flagstaff. The worst we’ve ever seen. Dangerous. Junk all across the horizon, as The Boss would say. We stopped over in Winslow, AZ – yes, that Standin’ on the Corner Winslow. Yes, it’s a tourist stop, but it’s in fact a lovely town. The amazing La Posada hotel was a place where Holly ate elk and we saw the art of Tina Mion. Her work – a surreal and darkly funny spin on grave topics – was a highlight. From there to Albuquerque, where we had to make a choice: Head up I-25 along the eastern edge of the Rockies, or angle up into the Great Plains. It was wicked cold and snowy in the nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains, so into the plains we went. New Mexico. Texas. Oklahoma. Kansas.  All in one day.

We do touristy things occasionally
We saw many pieces of art by Tina Mion, mostly at La Posada Hotel in Winslow, AZ, which I think she owns. She has a beautiful dark, biting humor in her work which she applies equally to the renowned and to herself. In this piece, she imagines herself consumed by a lion
Homolovi State Park, AZ

I’ll say a thing or two about Kansas, a state we had intended to dodge altogether for as long as possible. First, it provided a haven during raucous winds. Second, its tall grass prairie was utterly lovely and inviting. I will make too much of this, so says Holly, and she may be right. Thanks to my friend Dave, a former coworker, tour guide and native Kansan, I had the inside track on things to see. True, the state is big and flat with not a lot to comment on, particularly in the west. But once we got to the tall grass prairie in the Flint Hills area, I really felt the allure of the rolling hills and lush grass. We stayed for three days at Chase State Fishing Lake (free camping) to wait out treacherous wind. It was then that I started reading PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon (also at Dave’s recommendation), a ‘deep map’ of Chase County Kansas. Like my reading of Steinbeck’s Log of the Sea of Cortez, PrairyErth brought me close to the place I found myself. Not all the places we traverse are postcard worthy, yet each has its story and place in the world.

Chase State Fishing Lake area, Cottonwood Falls, KS
Chase State Fishing Lake area, Cottonwood Falls, KS
Chase State Fishing Lake area, Cottonwood Falls, KS
Cottonwood Falls, KS, county seat of Chase County, the subject of PrairyErth

After we left Cottonwood Falls, it was really about making time to Chicago. Drew and Natalie and Tate awaited. We were eager – if you want to call it that – to get the van fixed. Tate, it turns out, is no longer a grandpa-chest-napper. He has routines, and that ain’t one. What he is though, is a beautiful and lucky boy. Holly and I have been blessed again to see what a great job Drew and Natalie are doing at the hardest job in the world: raising a good and kind human. As an added extra bonus, Holly and I get Tate all to ourselves for four days while Drew and Natalie go to a wedding. We’ll be heading out in a couple days to see a part of the country that’s new to us and to see some people we love. As always, this journey, even the whining engine parts, are a gift. We’ll be back here when Tate turns 1 year old in June, then east, then west. I think I have an invitation to learn how to use a plasma torch on a farm in North Dakota. I’ll need to check up on that.

Drew and Natalie and Tate
Tate, skedaddling off to his next adventure…

3 thoughts on “Chrono Synclastic Infundibulum

  1. Sorry to read about your engine problems. It wasn’t long after I met you two in Idaho last year that the transmission on my Transit started giving me trouble. Turned out to be a cracked transmission cooler that set me back $1300. Like you, I’ve come to accept that this sort of thing is part of the journey (both literal and metaphorical). I’m currently back in New York waiting on new tires before I set off along the northern shore of Lake Superior on my way to the Arctic Ocean and hopefully a summer of new experiences in Alaska. I’m enjoying your tales from the road and hoping I can put together a similar chronology in the not too distant future.

    1. Hey there, Dick. Your trip to the Arctic sounds amazing. I’d encourage you to find a way to document the journey. It doesn’t have to be anything big. A little blank journal to sketch or record your thoughts periodically is enough. You’ll enjoy being able to look back on it. Safe travels!

  2. Oh, now I have a reason to go to Winslow – to see the Death Spoons. I don’t really need to stand on the corner.

    Love the murals on the rocks.

    I wish I could say that I am experiencing Chrono Synclastic Infundibulum. But honestly, I can’t see the future. The future seems like a fiction – although I know that everything changes and the future will arrive one way or another. We have been stuck in the same spot in Oaxaca, Mexico for 3 months. For a while, we were pretty good at living in the moment. We still are but we are ready for the future that takes us back onto the road.

    But, of course, our bad luck has brought us many gifts too. I believe once you begin traveling you give up control of where your life takes you. Bad luck can set you on a totally different path. Chance encounters too. You end up where ever you end up next.

    But anyways I hope all is well with the van and your visits with friends and family have been wonderful.

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