Friday, February 25, 2011

Night Returns to the Valley

As night returns to the valley, I watch the sky above Sentinel Meadow. It’s the day’s shining moment. Sunset spreads its rich orange and red colors over the land and all the birds and animals are in motion. Some are getting ready for bed. Others are doing a little last minute snacking, while some are just waking up and getting ready to hunt down their breakfasts.

This evening I have been looking for owls, determined to see at least one. But after waiting at several prime spots and seeing nothing, I head back to camp. Halfway across the meadow, I notice the tan shape of a coyote behind a tree, casually watching everything going on. Yet in this near darkness I’m not sure if it’s really a coyote. It could be a log, but I’m not going over to find out.

(A dandy snowstorm is moving through the Sierras today. If you’d like to see what this looks like, go online, put in “Yosemite web cam” in your computer’s search box. The Yosemite site will have four options – the Ahwahnee Meadow webcam is the clearest right now.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Big Old Trees

There’s a street near my house that used to have large and majestic trees hanging over the road that provided cool shade even on the hottest summer day. For one block it felt like driving through Sherwood Forest. Now half the trees are gone, trimmed back or cut down because they were old, and big limbs fall off even in gentle storms. The street has a different feel to it. It’s now like every other streamlined road that takes me from here to there.

The land we live on influences how we feel. There are other places in town that still catch my attention. I can’t go along Grandview Drive without picking up a sense of inspiration that stays with me throughout the day. I can’t watch the Illinois River flow by without feeling its surging power and the endless movement of the earth. I can’t hike through the quiet of the Forest Park Preserve and not think that I’ve stepped two hundred years into the past when all of Illinois was like this. And I can’t drive through the countryside without seeing the shape of the land and not be moved by its close relationship with the sky.

As much as we affect changes on the land, so the land changes us.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Staring Into the Woods

Why do I stare into the woods? There’s nothing going on there. The woodchuck is hibernating. The deer haven’t come through in a while. And don’t get me started on the owl that’s been on vacation for six months. It’s basically trees sticking out of two feet of snow that has buried the bushes and rounded the land so that everything’s smooth. And yet I do. I stare at the white landscape amazed by the intricate pattern of dark branches and trunks.

Why sit in a cathedral when it’s empty? Nothing’s going on there, either. And yet I do because I feel a presence. If I were to be poetic about it, it’s like centuries of devotion are held in the air between the vaulted roof and wooden pews.

Why I think this is, and what I think the major reason that I do this is, I like to be surrounded by something larger than myself, something grand, soaring, and noble. Something real. Authentic. This seems like a strange thing to say when talking about presence and mystery, both matters that don’t physically exist,yet are something that one can feel. It’s a gift, a grace, to sit for a time in a place that allows me to relax and breathe deeply. The wilderness is a place that helps me believe and hope in things I cannot see.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Primordial turn of Earth.
Solitude with stone.

Light rises, then sets below the south ridge.
Cold lingers in hidden parts of the valley.
Fleeting moments of midday warmth.

Clap hands to awaken one’s ears to this season’s voice.
This aliveness.

Deer nibble the ground.
Squirrels and Stellar’s jays scold us for no apparent reason.
All creatures listen
for enlightenment.

Snow covers the world, and deepens.
Coyote trots over memories of buried trails.
Glaciers deepen on the north side of mountains.
Icicles click in the breeze.

from Canticle of the Sierra Nevada