The world of clocks and mirrors

We dropped Lily off at her new school, a “step-down school,” just 40 students with half coming from a residential treatment center and the others a wilderness therapy program like Lily. The town is in somewhere Utah, a town like a teenager, where you can see its potential but it needs more time to develop still.

I walked the curving road past the new development to the nearby trailhead, past little roads with names like West Topaz Drive and Pyrite Lane. A big field of sage as yet undeveloped, with real estate signs and numbers to call if you’re interested. Only the sound of crickets and crows from the rooftops cawing. Pure potential from a developer’s point of view. And that made me think of Lily and what they’d said about her at the graduation ceremony, that she is pure potential too. Maybe better left to her natural state though, that natural beauty like a field of sage in the morning when the sun first lights the foothills, the purple-lavender of mountaintops at dawn.

We got into town early so Lily could settle in. We hit the thrift store where she loaded up on cheap shirts with ironic slogans and bought her a plant at the Walmart. It was like going off to college but the goal was to actually make up what she missed in high school so she could go off to college. But that was sad and hard, because as parents we hadn’t prepared ourselves for that yet. Instead we had a patchwork of memories leading up to her sendoff that were painful and strange. She had gone to the wilderness program just after Easter and now we’d have a week together before she started this new school, a minimum six month stay.

We spent a few days in Durango reintegrating Lily into the “real world.” That was hard for students who’d lived outdoors for 12 weeks with no access to phones, clocks or mirrors. They ate only organic food and slept about 11 hours a night, on the ground. Showered once a week. No artificial light or screens, no sugar.

Durango is a good town for that reintegration, better was the nearby town Mancos, where we stopped for smoothies. We had our ups and downs but Lily practiced her new coping skills when needed and we moved on to Moab, a resort half an hour out of town with a pool and exercise room. They played old western movies on Friday nights in a large conference room with free popcorn. We sat in the front row and lost ourselves in that weird world on screen, with the fading light of the real canyons in the background. We left the film early and went back to our room to unwind; I counted down how many nights we had left and got up early each morning for a solo walk, sometimes with Lily. The days unspooled and we moved from town to town, closing the gap between where we’d been in Colorado and Lily’s new home in Utah.

We moved her into her dorm room, with Hello Kitty blankets and her belongings from wilderness, the bowling ball-sized geode she’d found somewhere and we’d wedged in the back of the rental car, with the luggage. It was exciting and sad as I imagine those times are for parents seeing their kids off like that. A hot desert wind and me keeping track of time, calculating how much we needed to get to the airport and for our last lunch together.

At the graduation ceremony I first heard of this phrase “the world of clocks and mirrors.” And it had an ominous sound, the world of clocks, the one our kids would have to re-enter after they’d had a few months removed from it to work on themselves and start recovering from whatever required them to leave it in the first place. We got heartfelt advice, to share what we were grateful for at dinner every night and to slow down, because life goes by fast.

We took our keepsakes and Lily arranged them in her room on the chest of drawers. We said our goodbyes and I put the music on and drove off, set the navigator and air conditioner. We had lots of time still I said, our whole lives in fact. And we drove west on the 15 following signs to Las Vegas.

Categories: Memoir, writing

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20 replies

  1. What a powerful phrase: “the world of clocks and mirrors.” Ominous indeed. Celebrating your loving journey with Lily, and sending peace and light toward this new chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s lovely Stacey! Thanks kindly. It is a great phrase as a writer I confess I’m selfishly intrigued by it. And it reminds me of a title by one of my favorite authors David Mitchell, “The Bone Clocks.” Be well and thank you for this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The world of clocks where you have lots of time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know that world of clocks. After a 100 day bike-packing trip, I returned to my old life in DC. I felt like a caged animal. I think it’s good that Lily will be surrounded by others from wilderness programs. It’s important to have others around who know what you feel. When my niece finished the Appalachian Trail, she got extremely depressed because she couldn’t cope with the real world and didn’t have anyone around to talk about it with. I think those unbound adventures can sometimes be simultaneously the best and worst thing you do in your life. It sounds like her program prepped her well for what she might feel. And yes, every time my daughter leaves for a semester, it feels like a bit of me goes with her.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lovely, thanks Jeff. I can imagine how your niece felt on the Appalachian, coming off it. And yes to the “best and worst,” and losing pieces of ourselves. Well put, I get it. Thank you for reading and for this.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. It does sound ominous to be going into “the world of clocks and mirrors”, but it also sounds like the geode Lily found could help as something that works both metaphorically, with its hidden crystal interior, and as a connection to where she’s come from. The plant could also help, both as another living thing to take care of and also because of its connection to you. Thinking about it “the world of clocks and mirrors” also doesn’t sound so ominous. It was brief but you and she shared something valuable: time to reflect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Christopher, always grateful for your multidimensional perspectives and what you draw out of things, like the geode. Super cool, thank you for reading and the note. It is a funny-sounding phrase eh? Be well.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can only imagine what life’s been like for high school kids the last few years. We haven’t been around any. High school was weird enough back in “normal” times. (Or maybe I was the weird one.) Hopefully, this path will run smooth, despite the occasional fun house mirror along the trail.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Bill, I think that separation anxiety and things like that froze my ability to correspond with you on this post. I hope my own emotional response does NOT mirror yours. Can I simply say it’s a good reflective piece? (Ouch! That pun wasn’t that bad
    … was it?)
    You’ve been on quite a journey and thanks for writing about it.

    I noticed mention of sage.
    I like the idea of having totem members of society who are stewards of wisdom and cultural memory. Their totemic symbol would be sage, which is associated with the getting of wisdom and boosting memory.
    Maybe stick a bit of sage in your hat band, Bill.
    I think I will leave it at that, other than to say,
    All the best to you and yours.


    • That’s such a kind and thoughtful note on the sage and the totem members of society notion David, thank you. A good reflective piece is a great comment any day so thanks for saying it! I sometimes read personal things from other writers and feel stymied about what to say. I don’t think this comment format has ever felt natural to me, or I haven’t allowed it to for some reason. But I appreciate you taking time out to always write something kind, thoughtful and encouraging. So thanks David! We are in Montana now, if you can believe that, yet another exotic state for us with big mountains and skies, quite nice. A family reunion with my wife Dawn’s family. And I’m off to bed early while the sun is still out to wind down and get a little quiet as this epic western light wanes. Be well!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Montana. It is on your way home. But I will get onto Googlespeak when I get home, just to satisfy curiosity as a quick look showed some great looking country. Kind regards DD

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hats off to your courage to share this part of your life, Bill. Please know that it is helpful to others. And someday (maybe after you’re gone) Lily may read this and see “her” experience through your eyes, melding the two within.

    I especially resonate with your near-Moab account of early morning walks, some solo, some with Lily.

    Our kids turn our lives in directions we’d never have anticipated. They stretch us, and we grow from it all.

    The leaving home part is HUGE. I’m headed up to 9000ft above Cloudcroft NM for next couple of weeks … camping, no connectivity, lots of walking, lots of spiritual discussion (Gathering Of Circles) … lots of reflection on my unexpected challenges. Looking back, wish I’d gotten into regular walking lonnnng ago! (Walking was one of the coping skills my son taught me; my dad walked also, but somehow I discounted his wisdom; guess I needed a double example.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Jazz! Thanks for this sweet note. I’m glad you see it as courageous to write about, appreciate that. Both my mom and I process and regulate by way of morning walks, cool to hear you can relate. And I’m excited for your upcoming trip to NM! Can’t wait to hear about it. We’re in Montana for a week now, in Whitefish, headed to Glacier NP today. Going to do some writing now before the rest of my crew wakes up! Be well, thanks for reading and sharing your reactions.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “Following signs to Las Vegas.” The cherry on top of the world of Clocks and Mirrors.


  9. Fingers hovering over keyboard to ‘Comment’, what came out was a sigh. So I might let that speak for me on this one.

    Except… The World of Clocks and Mirrors would be a magnificent title for a slightly gothic YA fiction/fantasy, don’t you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I happened to see your comment somewhere – another blog – and clicked over here, then saw a reference to Lily’s journey. That made me read this entry. My son was on a similar path years ago. Such a tough time for parents as well as the child. His journey went from one program to another for several years. The Utah wilderness program and a school in Massachusetts were really helpful but it was still many years before he got serious about sobriety. He’s in a very good place now but I know it can change in a heartbeat. So best of luck to you and Lily! Writing is a wonderful way to process it and your writing is warm, thoughtful, and readable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey that’s such a lovely note here, thank you for sharing your son’s story too. Happy to hear you’re making your way through that though it certainly can feel like a lifelong adventure of sorts…appreciate the kind words. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

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