A Lobby in the Corner of the Forest
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” —Winnie the Pooh
I’ve commented before about photography restoring a sense of adventure in me, and I recently pursued that sense of adventure in earnest. I took off on a trip to Flagstaff , Arizona, for what was supposed to be 3 days of landscape and street photography. I could have stayed with my sister, but decided to exercise my wanderlust by staying at the Grand Canyon International Hostel. What a fortuitous decision that was, thanks to all of the amazing people I met in the hostel and the stories I will take with me for the rest of my life.
I had the opportunity to meet Frank Mand, a former journalist who is walking across the country to raise money and awareness for the Plymouth Taskforce for the Homeless. You can read his story and donate to his cause here https://www.crowdrise.com/walkinghome/fundraiser/frankmand?fbclid=IwAR3PtLHfnDus-cC31FgWuKf5laXgd93IyGloni8D2TPzDAfsvRCE4PAyEnc
One afternoon I was trying to get in a nap but was kept awake by the sound of an accordion (impossible to sleep through the sound of an accordion BTW). Instead of lamenting my lack of sleep, I went out to investigate this sound and met a Dutch artist and musician in the hostel lobby. After taking a few pictures we started talking, and 30 minutes later I was on a road trip with a near total stranger to chase the sunset at Monument Valley. As we were driving we talked about art and politics, and at one point he cautioned me to never trust anyone that says “trust me,” which resulted in a few laughs as he kept asking me to stop to take pictures, and I kept saying we had to get to the monument before sunset, and to “trust me, it was worth it.” We arrived with about 30 minutes to spare, just in time to catch the sunset causing deep shadows through the valley while leaving the butte’s peaks gloriously lit up. We were able to get some amazing shots of the valley, and although he never said so, I think I earned his trust in my judgement in skipping the earlier sites.
The road trip caused my 3 day trip to become 4, and I wish I could have stayed longer. Every night I went to the lobby as it filled with like minded travelers of all ages and from all over the world (I should confess here to having baited the room a little with rum and whiskey). One night we played cards, another Pictionary, and one night we just sat around, talked, and watched a young woman get a traditional stick and poke tattoo. Right there in the lobby. Always a group of people ready to say yes to whatever the night had in store for us. There were a few guests that stayed the entire time I was there, but part of the adventure was seeing who would be new to the group, which also meant saying bye to a new group every day. One night there was a pair of Swedes who live in Luxemborg and were travelling the U.S. If they don’t have a show in Vegas soon it will be a shame, as they are two of the funniest people I’ve ever met and could entertain anyone for hours on end. There was a group of au pairs, one from Sweden, one from Argentina and one half Chinese/ half Colombian woman, which immediately gave us so much to talk about as those are two of the countries I’ve been to. The first night there was a group of college boys meeting up in Flagstaff, and I stayed up with them for hours explaining the differences between good beer and bad beer- amongst many other topics.
Then there was the hostel staff. For those of you who have stayed in hostels you probably already know this but it is the staff that makes or breaks the experience. I don’t know how many people worked at the Grand Canyon Hostel, it seemed like an army of them were cleaning every day, but I tried to get to know all of them and can’t express my gratitude enough for their hospitality. I was surprised and a little confused to wake up one morning with a kazoo in my coat pocket, and to the young woman who gave it to me, thank you, and yes, it is up on my wall now.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that “Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.” Although there are many wise words from Emerson, I couldn’t disagree with him more on this one. We are who we have known. Every person we meet, every person we engage with, leaves a little bit of themselves with us. When I travel I may only bring my sad giant with me, but I bring back so much more. And hope that in my travels I am able to give back as much as I have taken.
I look forward to my future adventures, and to share them through photography. I hope to stay at the Grand Canyon International Hostel again, saddened by the knowledge that my brief friends will all be long gone, but excited by the prospect of a new group in the lobby.