Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Holding Sunlight in My Hands

One of the reasons I hike in nature is to be overwhelmed by scenes of natural beauty and awe, to lose myself for a time in experiences that let me know I’m part of something greater than my perceptions. But as soon as I realize that I’m in one of these moments, I’m no longer part of it. I become an observer instead of a participant. Now I have a choice. I can do nothing and hope that I slide back in, or hope that a second moment will begin and take me further, or I can conclude that the moment is over and try to remember it as best I can.

Generally I preserve special moments by writing or taking photographs. With photography, the only option is to interrupt the flow of the moment because the deer will run off or the sunset begins to fade. The photo has to be taken now. With writing I can linger, jot down a few images, and flesh out the details later. Yet trying to preserve transcendent moments in one-dimensional forms like photography or writing isn’t complete because so much is left out. They are only signposts pointing the way.

Transcendent experiences are not the product of close observations or logic. I cannot make them happen. Like a Zen koan, understanding comes by surprise, by leaps of intuition. Although I write to understand these moments, life is still best when it is simply lived.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beartooth Mountains

I’m in Red Lodge, Montana. During the day I hike a different trail in the Beartooth Mountains. In the evening I go to the chamber concerts at the Red Lodge Music Festival.

The trail up East Rosebud Lake is open to the sky, the result of a fire that burned the forest away. Here and elsewhere there is the chance of meeting moose, wolves, and grizzly bears. Yellowstone is just over the crest. I like hiking with the edge of danger present. It keeps me respectful of the ways of the wilderness.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Molly was a painter who had a wonderful eye for composition, especially when creating collages of unusual materials. She loved the Native American culture of the Southwest, asiago cheese, nature and Francesco.

One of her paintings hangs on my wall. It’s an abstract work of Yosemite that combines old clothing patterns, canvas, and oil paint. At first I thought it was of pine trees in a snowstorm, with circles and shards of green objects scattered about. Now I see the light of creation coming through the mist and the sacred hoop of the Great Spirit, renewing the life of animals, people, and coyotes. Today I realized that the inspiration for the painting could have come one day when she was in Yosemite, looked up at the sun shining above the clouds and sending through beams of light, before the clouds thickened and took the sun away.

She was struggling with a brain tumor then. How she faced her struggles taught me the importance of living in the moment and celebrating what is good today, even if other matters are going wrong. She left this vision in her painting to remind me.

Five years ago this month, Molly died at age 41.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Taking Risks

Camp 4 in Yosemite is where the rock climbers stay, and when I’m in Yosemite I stay with them. I like their camaraderie and the stories they tell around the campfire of their adventures from the day. Climbers know their activity is dangerous. Sometimes they lose their grip or the rock disintegrates in their hands and they fall, with safety ropes catching them thirty or fifty feet down and the only injuries are bruises. But sometimes ropes snap, or climbers hit points of rock on the way down and bones break. Climbers die every year from pushing themselves or their equipment too far. Yet taking this risk with others, and pushing to the edge that separates failure and success, teaches them about courage, teamwork, and most importantly, about their inner strengths.

I can comfortably get through life doing what I’ve always done. But I only grow when I take risks and attempt challenges that I’ve never done before. Taking risks also brings excitement into the day and pushes me to the edge where I can discover hidden abilities. I would guess that most changes in the world happen because of people taking risks, when they see a need and try to help without knowing how they are going to do this, improvising on the spot. Taking risks with a group of people builds community and teaches us about trust and working together.