We're in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Wait, let me throw it in reverse here for a minute. Happy New Year 2018!  A quick numerological study reveals 2018 to be The Year of Healing - more on that shortly - and at The Higher Haven we’re leading the charge. With South Haven, Michigan currently buried under two feet of pow pow - an old (51 in April!) snow-boarder's term for snow- we're looking forward to kicking off the year’s retreat schedule the weekend of March 18th, starting with a One-Day and potential overnight lead by standout Detroit yoga teacher Soojin Kim. But before our Spring bloom, there’s our annual Winter break, including the Holiday season.

This year’s personal Christmas plans proved a bit unorthodox. After spending a traditional Xmas eve and morning with my sister’s husband’s family in central Michigan, I headed out West to my meditation teacher Shinzen Young's annual southern California year-end retreat. Ending and beginning the new year on the cushion for nine days with The Mighty Shin is standard personal practice. This year, however, we eschewed Uber fares and long airport lines, loaded up the F150 and drove to California instead. “Who the heck gets up Christmas morning and rolls West on The 60?”, I thought, gunning it across the frozen, sun-glittered landscape. I’ll return triumphantly in early January with a truck bed full of Sonoran Desert lava rocks to run Ceremony and retreats all Spring, Summer and Fall.

But before Arizona, there’s New Mexico, and before Colorado there's Incredible Kansas. To slightly misquote Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, there’s no place like Kansas. Studying the U.S. map pre-trip reminded me of a book I read years ago titled Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. The two points I recall from that book are 1) the author referred to his relationship with his former wife as The Indian Wars and 2) truly connecting with the land and having an authentic, quality run cross-country comes about by taking  byways that aren’t readily visible from the major interstate routes. "When you're traveling, you are what you are right there and then." writes Heat Moon. "People don't have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road." 

 So inconceivably cool, Kansas' yellowed, snow-dappled swath offered a sweeping horizon, a stretch that's escaped the impact of human progression for centuries.  The expansive skyline provided a magnificent backdrop for rugged grasslands, one of the world's most endangered ecosystems. Reveling in the wide open space of undisturbed nature, I imagined Apache, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa people roaming the area over a century ago in search of great bison herds before signing a peace treaty with the United States in 1867. Being an indigenous U.S. history buff, I may be back later in 2018 and sit on a bluff (a buff on a bluff) overlooking a natural amphitheater as more than 1,000 actors perform the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Pageant, a reenactment not far from the original site. It's easy to see why the original settlers, The Ioway tribe and Chief, Ma-Hush-Kah (White Cloud), held an undying passion for this land. 

The Sunflower State offers an impressive portfolio of Land and Sky Scenic Byways. But check a map of those endless ribbons of road and you won’t find any at all in the state's Southwest corner. On the way to Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, dropping off the I-70 and south onto the I-40,  I hardly passed another car, truck, person or God help me a gas station from noon to sunset. For over five hours, there was nothing but me, half a dozen awesome birds of prey and some of the most wide-open, wild but barren country I’ve ever cut across. Spooky! All that was missing was a vicious black Twister ripping across the horizon.

If there was a town, it wasn’t much of one, more a decrepit clump of homes with some burned out old grain elevators and other agricultural buildings. I could tell by the tracks in the snow that people did reside there, but it certainly wasn’t bustling. God bless my bro-in-law Kevin, who, right as I pulled out of his home town of Concord, Michigan, suggested I “just pull over and fill up at every half-tank." Half empty of half-full, the recommendation was a Good One. More news from the road to come, along with some super duper articles for all you would be-meditators on Shinzen’s mighty teachings and nightly dharma talks. Toksha