Monday, April 29, 2013

Prayer in the Wilderness

Prayer is waking up at dawn and listening to nature as you cook breakfast over a fire.

Prayer is a conversation we have with the mountains and rivers, with ravens and coyotes.  We share and as we listen to the Other, our perceptions about ourselves and the world deepen.  We grow in compassion for all creatures.

Prayer is an adventure because on the trail we don’t know what we will encounter around the next bend.  There could be a mother bear with her cubs, a mountain lion, or the trail may open to a stunning view over a river canyon.

Prayer is a cool breeze on a hot day when we’re hiking up the steep ridge behind North Dome.

Prayer is watching the Creator walk by in thunderstorms that rush and boom through the valley.

As we hike into unknown territory, we trust the spirituality of nature to guide us where to go.  We travel with holy intention on a search that may take years, but prayer is not an answer. 

Prayer is a journey, and prayer is our companion along the way.

Prayer is the beauty of white granite mountains and canyons colored by rose and purple alpenglow at sunset.

Prayer is falling asleep watching the stars overhead and joining their pilgrimage through the cosmos.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

John Muir

I grew up in Wisconsin playing in the woods in all seasons and reading about John Muir, as well as about Aldo Leopold and Sigurd Olson, nature writers in Wisconsin and Minnesota. I lived near Muir’s home, we both went to the University of Wisconsin, and one side of my family is Scottish, so there are those connections. Then he headed west and found himself entranced and delighted by Yosemite’s grandeur.

When I moved to California, I wanted to experience the place that Muir raves about in his books, the place that nurtured his soul, so I went to Yosemite.  I was, and still am, amazed that such a place can exist – a valley with granite walls that go straight up for almost a mile, waterfalls that flow into the valley from every direction, mountain peaks that stretch to 13,000 feet, and giant sequoias that are 300 feet tall and 3000 years old. I continue to use Muir’s words to guide me around the valley and draw closer to nature.  He also liked to hike by himself, and by doing so I find solitude that nourishes me.

John Muir was instrumental in saving Yosemite from development and founded the Sierra Club in the late 1800s.  He realized the importance of taking care of not just the valley but also the watershed, for if the source of water in the mountains was diverted for irrigation, then the valley and its creatures would die. 

Like Muir, when I’m in Yosemite I feel surrounded by something much greater than my individual life.  I feel awe and wonder, as if I’m touching something eternal.  I feel a spiritual presence. When I stand on the top of Clouds Rest at 10,000 feet and look down at the forests, canyons and rivers that have looked this way for thousands of years, I am profoundly moved.  Nothing else affects me this way.  Nothing else inspires me like the wilderness. Nothing else gives me such hope.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Tree Branches

Earth Day

Spring is late this year.  It actually was about to start early, then a snow storm came in, followed by a warm day, then a cold front with days of rain.  Now it seems that spring might finally stay longer, although lows in the 30s are expected later this week.  Tiny buds that I can’t see on trees in the distance are giving the woods behind my house a light green sheen as if some light is always shining on them.

I noticed a beautiful bare tree last week.  Without any leaves, everything was exposed from the trunk and main branches to the smaller branches as they tapered out thinner and thinner until they reached the twigs.  It was so symmetrical that I gazed at it in admiration.

And I had the thought that we are like trees and the branches are aspects of our lives – our relationships, projects, work, and all of our interests over the years.  As some of our interests end, those branches die and fall off.  As people we knew in high school move away, those branches never grow any further.  When we take on new interests and relationships, new branches grow.  What we were provides the support for our ventures now.

A few days ago I went into the woods and found a tree that did not survive the winter.  The bark on my old friend was beginning to come off in places.  I’ve enjoyed the beauty of this tree as I sat under it when it was full and glorious with its summer green, and I’ve watched it sway back and forth as it endured the strong driving wind and rain of thunderstorms.  Soon its branches will break under their own weight, and the tree will eventually fall.  Then it will become a home for insects and bugs, and attract a new set of birds. This is part of the life cycle, too.

(In honor of his birthday, California declared yesterday to be John Muir Day.)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Kathleen Norris essay published by Antler Journal

Antler Journal has just published my essay on Kathleen Norris and the spirituality of landscape.  You can read it online at: