Hiking between the Catherine Creek and Coyote Wall trailheads I discovered this scarred and mangled tree dancing in the late summer sunshine.
Pausing nearby, I sat to allow the joy of the weathered one to wash over me. A silly smile spanned my face as I looked at its unswerving pleasure in just being. Despite thinning branches and a disfigured trunk this durable spirit stood before the blue sky and mountains in the distance.
Without arborists to train it into a handsome front yard gem this tree thrived in the midst of its imperfections. Without naysayers along a city boulevard to express repulsion at its lifetime of struggles, the divinity within this tree danced joyfully.
Holy wind, help me appreciate scars, whether physical or emotional. May I learn from my own struggles. May I allow the pains of others to touch and transform me. On this mid-winter day, may I still dance in the certitude of the late summer that I am beloved by the divinity that binds creation together. Amen.
Thirty-five sounds like we should have special plans. We should get all dressed up in our sexiest clothes and go out to dinner. If you believe the commercials, I should surprise her with an expensive gift. Perhaps a diamond ring or necklace. Maybe I should send her thirty-five roses?
Instead we’ve been hiking and now we’re hanging out together over fast food pizza. We might stop by the cherry stand in Mosier on the way home and we’ll probably cuddle with the dog this evening. We rarely put pressure on ourselves with the big days or the numbers. We also don’t spend money on each other just because some marketer says we should.
We spend time together. As we traveled from our remote town to the trail this morning, we talked about our future. I asked about how she was feeling about work which is currently in a state of flux. She listened as I reflected upon my hopes and dreams ministering with my congregation. We listened. We loved.
We did what we usually do on our Monday sabbath. We spend time doing things we enjoy and just being together.
Still, I’m more reflective today than most Mondays. As I look across the table at my Imzadi, my soul mate, my other half, my partner in life, my thoughts drift to where we were then and where we are now.
We were married young. Maggie was nineteen; I was a few months into my twenties. Objectively speaking, she has a few “blonde” hairs on her head now. My red beard is rapidly greying and we both wear bifocals now. We finished our childrearing a long time ago. We bicker less than we did during those years, perhaps because we have more rest and time to work on our relationship. Undoubtedly, because we’ve learned a thing or two about ourselves and one another through the decades.
Through it all — including the stormy times — our commitment to one another has remained rooted in our own mutual admiration society. You see, there is no one else. There is no one, including my children, with whom I’d rather be than Maggie. No one gets me like she does and I get her better than anyone else. I know and love her through her idiosyncrasies. She inexplicably finds my obnoxious morning (and afternoon and evening) songs endearing.
How could a diamond necklace or roses in any way represent the value of our thirty-five years together? Time together, sharing jokes with one another, talking about the next thirty-five, and simply being together are gifts that reflect our decades together. Those are the gifts we both expect from one another.
It had nothing to do with my recent surgery and recovery. It had everything to do with where my eyes were focused.
Within thirty minutes of my release from the doctor’s care, I was hiking. Within two hours I had stumbled over a rock and fallen to the ground.
I went down hard because I was more concerned with protecting my camera than myself. I fell because I wasn’t paying attention to the rocky ground beneath my feet. Instead I was fascinated by the fauna, flittering moths, and towering evergreens.
Living in arid eastern Oregon, I often yearn for both tree and fern. Finding myself beneath the protective canopy, all of my senses were directed upward.
Hiking an even rockier trail this morning, I carefully watched my feet. Hearing rustling as I approached each clump of dead trees in the midst of abundant wildflowers, I securely planted my feet and paused to look up. Standing still, I caught a glimpse of the timid squirrels that rustled the underbrush.
Solidly ensconced in place (without fear of falling) the motion of at least half a dozen birds of prey garnered my attention. Admiring their wide wingspan that kept them afloat above the nearby canyon, I recalled their kindred I nearly missed seeing in Cottonwood Canyon recently.
Fresh from my fall, I was carefully watching my feet as I journeyed through Cottonwood Canyon until my hike-mate called out to me.
“What’s that?” she said.
I stopped, planted my feet firmly, and looked where she pointed. In a lone tree nestled up next to the John Day River was a large bird of prey. Theorizing it to be a hawk or perhaps golden eagle, we moved closer so that we might see its markings. Using the zoom on my camera at a distance of well over one-hundred feet, I confirmed it was indeed a big bird.
Later when I examined my images downloaded to my laptop, I was in awe of the regal friend we’d met on our hike.
My vigilance at keeping my head down on post-fall hikes almost cost me the opportunity to admire the bird of prey sitting on its tree throne. Today, it nearly cost me the joy of admiring the flight of its multiple kindred floating above me.
My fear of failure or of injuring myself is not without its usefulness. As we move near a high drop-off, on the trail or in life, self-preservation dictates caution. When the surface we traverse is particularly rocky, to focus on the rocks for a time helps us to continue our pilgrimage.
Following physical, emotional, or spiritual hurts, however, we sometimes become too vigilant. When we do, we harm ourselves. The elimination of risk (too much caution) distances us from personal growth and one another. When we fail to look up, we fail to live fully.
Today, I am thankful for squirrels who rustle the underbrush. In so doing, a sequence of thought was initiated within me by the one I refer to as God. The sacred oneness of creation that connects the rodent, the aviary, and the human, lovingly reminded me that caution and risk are companions on my life journey.
You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen. –Paulo Coelho
Had I not be on the ground, literally on my hands and knees, I would not have noticed the difference in the trail surface. Part of the trail was made up of loose dirt while another area of it was packed densely like asphalt. The trail sloped downward.
When I first noticed the caterpillar, it was on the rough, loose dirt. It moved forward and then gravity and the loose dirt caused the caterpillar to roll over, landing on its side. Righting itself, the elongated creature proceeded to move forward across the trail again. This time it landed completely on its back. Once again it righted itself. It moved forward a fraction of an inch only to slide downward and onto its back again.
Eventually through a combination of perseverance and gravity, the caterpillar was on the densely-packed area of the trail. Once it reached dense-pack, the caterpillar quickly reached the other edge of the trail.
I don’t know why the caterpillar crossed the trail but I know it did. It didn’t make it to the other side because it was easy. It didn’t make it to the other side without the protection of circumstance. (If I’d not been nearby, a bird could’ve swooped in to make it dinner.) Of course, where some see luck, I see the involvement of the one I call God.
Perhaps the Divine energy that connects human beings, every rock, each spring wildflower, and the majestic bald eagle persuaded me to pause and marvel at the caterpillar’s journey. Perhaps, in this moment the One who knows all the possibilities that free-will might create used the persuasion available to divinity and lured me to take the most loving action in that moment.
But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. 5 This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5 CEB
In the hot July sun, I discovered a little shade beside a dribble of a waterfall. Sitting sipping from my water bottle, I discovered new life beside the holy rocks. Beneath the stagnant pool was full of polliwogs darting with youthful exuberance.