In 1987, Michael Card released a new album, The Final Word, that contained a song that remains one of my favorites more than thirty years later. Joy in the Journey sustained me through a time when everything seemed out of my control. The words gave this planner who desired control above everything much comfort. The words, “There is a wonder and wildness to life,” helped me learn that joy can be found, even in chaos. The song resonated with me on our seven months road trip. Whether all was well or in upheaval, I made sure to look for joy and its accompanying wonder and wildness.
While the entire trip was beyond explanation, magical, thrilling, inspiring, otherworldly, there were times when joy is the only word, I can use to describe what I felt. There are a lot of definitions of joy. Merriam-Webster says it is “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires” or “a state of happiness or felicity, intense happiness.” Were I to describe joy, it would be as though something clicks within me, as though someone has just given me the last piece in a puzzle or a key to a lock. I finally feel complete. An overwhelming feeling rises in me when I know without a doubt that a scene, a place, a person, or an experience was meant for me.
So, here are a few of the times that I experienced joy on our journey. (In calendar order and with special thanks to all the people who joined us or who we met along the way, Susan and Jim, Ann Waterbury, Tim and Miranda Slusser, The Neal Family, Mike and Pat Collis, Julie and Ernie Vogel, Christina Todd and all the others who helped to bring us joy!)
Oak Creek, Sedona, Arizona. While I enjoyed seeing the red rocks and cliffs of Sedona and the flowers were particularly stunning there, it was the feel of Oak Creek’s cold water and the sound of its waterfalls that filled me with joy. The sun reflected off the rippling water, leaves gently floated from the draping trees above and for the first time since we started our journey, I felt peaceful and calm. If we had not had an itinerary before us, I might still be soaking in Oak Creek.
The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah. Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park is difficult to describe. Almost one of those “you had to be there” moments. Why would you want to hike through fast moving water up to your waist? At the bottom of a canyon so deep that you can’t see the sky? With hundreds of other people clinging to rocks and stepping into water of an unknown depth? What’s the prize? The prize is joy! And a sense of accomplishment that will sustain you through difficult times. And maybe, bragging rights. At least among people who know what you are talking about! Glen and I got up at 4 in the morning to make it to The Narrows in time to find a parking place. Clad in special clothing to protect us against the cold, we took that step onto rocks and then, into the Virgin River. With shoes full of water, we traversed about half of the narrows and exited feeling like we were superheroes. Yes, it was beautiful. Yes, it was challenging. And yes, we found joy. Just look at these smiles to prove it.
Whitney Museum of Western Art, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody Wyoming and National Museum of Wildlife Art Jackson, Wyoming. I am including both museums as one experience because not just seeing the art that they exhibit, but studying it, gave me great joy. I love art museums, but experiencing the art, painted, sculpted and photographed, of the west while visiting the west is particularly thrilling In addition, both museums showcase a few recreated studios of the artists on exhibit so that you can see where and how those pieces were created. I particularly loved that the museums included the stories of the artists and not just descriptions of the art.
Cannon Beach, Oregon and Pacific Beach, Washington. Again, I am combining two places, but these two Pacific beaches are in two vastly different environments. Cannon Beach is a bustling tourist town with lots of shops and restaurants, while Pacific Beach boasts one gas station and market. Yet, I go to the beach for the sea and to breathe its salt air so both beaches brought me joy. While both beaches were wide with hard packed sand and extreme tidal flows, Cannon Beach was full of tourists and had the famous “haystack” rocks. Pacific Beach was opposite, few people and quiet. Both beaches allowed dogs, and Cory and I walked for miles enjoying the scenery, the debris littering the beach and just being together.
Drop-in Nosework Class with Ann Waterbury, Port Orchard, Washington. At Port Orchard, the company mattered more than the location. Ann Waterbury, who introduced Cory and I to Nosework, now lives in Port Orchard, Washington. She generously came to visit us at the campground in Port Orchard twice and then, invited Cory and I to participate in a Nosework class that she was teaching. Not only was it fun visiting with Ann and learning from her vast knowledge of animal behavior and Nosework but as I left her class with Cory that day, I was filled with joy at the connection that Nosework has given Cory and me. Sometimes, I think she can read my mind, she probably can, and to have that bond with an animal described as woman’s best friend is extraordinary. Not only was I joyful, but extremely grateful to Ann for introducing us to the sport.
Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington. I am not sure that Mt. Rainier would have made my joyful list except for the people that travelled there with us. It was a breathtaking park, with snow-capped mountains, snow covered hiking trails and icy waterfalls. But the joy I felt came from hiking with our son and daughter-in-love, seeing their strength and determination, feeling their care for “us, old folks” and sharing their enthusiasm. Mt. Rainier is also where I laughed the hardest I have probably ever laughed in my life when I slipped on an icy path, accidently flinging my water bottle in the air which narrowly missed my daughter-in-love and a stranger. My daughter-in-love and I lay in the snow laughing so long and so loud that we attracted the attention of other hikers which only made us giggle even more. That was joy!
Badlands National Park, South Dakota. When I tell people that Badlands National Park was one of my favorite National Parks, they can’t understand why. Unless they have been there. Then, they nod and smile. While the Badlands is mostly dry and rocky, it also includes an expanse of prairie that stretches almost as far as you can see. It is easy to imagine both the wonder and the fear of the pioneers as they traversed the prairie and then, by surprise encountered the deep canyons and towering formations of the Badlands. What makes the Badlands even more special is the light. As the day progresses, the rock formations change colors with the rotating sun. As day turns to night, you can look to the west as the setting sun makes the landscape glow and then, to the east as the moon rises into a star filled sky.
Lake Superior, Munising, Michigan and Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Park, Porter, Indiana. More water destinations, this time on fresh water instead of salt water. I even bought a sweatshirt that reads, “No Salt, No sharks, No worries.” Rocky beaches, with sandy lake bottoms lured me into the water even though everyone including Cory thought I was nuts because it was so cold.
Mill Ridge Farm, Lexington, Kentucky. It’s interesting to think about what goes into making one day over another joy filled. For me, a pluviophile (lover of rain), this day became even better because it was raining. As we toured the horse farm where young thoroughbred horses are bred and raised, we dodged rain showers. As we were leaving, we saw a group of yearlings gathered by the fence. I got out of the car, even though it was raining, and raced down to see them. They jostled by the fence for the carrots I held and splashed water from mud puddles. I felt that joy from my toes to the top of my head. Horses and rain. You can’t get much better than that.
Cleveland Zoo, Cleveland, Ohio. Ordinarily, a zoo is an unlikely source of joy for me, but this particular zoo was the home of a very famous hippo, Fiona. I’ve heard a lot of stories about Fiona, but nothing compared to seeing her in person. As she zipped about her pool and slid down the glass that separated us, I laughed and felt like a little girl again. And felt the joy!
Bonus Answer: While joy doesn’t come from things, it does come from possibilities. So, I will add that the many fabulous quilt stores across the country and the National Quilting Museum in Paducah, Kentucky that I had to privilege to visit also gave me joy as I was inspired by the patterns and colors I saw. I brought home more kits, patterns, and fabric than I may ever get to complete, but there is much joy in thinking about the creative moments ahead of me. Almost worth coming home for. Almost.