Awhile back, I was inspired by the abundant life still present in the parched late summer at the Tom McCall Preserve near Rowena, Oregon. The dry conditions were not unusual that year. I confess the sound of the hot wind blowing through the dry grass and crinkling leaves brings me peace when I hike there in the summer months.
Instead of the Columbia River Gorge’s hot breath, I experienced its bitter winds on my early February hike. There was no crunching to be heard, only the sloshing sound of my (thankfully!) waterproof hiking boots on the muddy and floody trail. There was subtle beauty in the winter moisture just as there was in late summer.
Last fall, much of this area was under a drought emergency. Mt. Hood was rapidly losing its snowcap. Areas I hiked in July had the same lack of snow that is typical of late September. This winter we’ve been blessed by moisture falling as rain at the lower elevations and snow in the mountains.
Certainly we need to be concerned about climate change; we should be taking more drastic actions than we have been taking. Nonetheless, spiritually we need to remember that the very nature of existence is change. What is now, will not last forever. Droughts become an abundant winter of snow and rain.
Writes Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön, “Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don’t struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality.” I confess that I’ve recently been in a funk. I’ve been struggling with the wilderness, the “no-man’s-land” as Chödrön refers to it, on and off for some time.
The result of course is I’ve been out of harmony with reality. By allowing myself to resist and struggle against the impermenance, failing to be in the present, I allow myself to be out of sync with the joy, the contentment — the divinity — within myself and others. So, I confess my sin and pledge to continue the wandering, the learning to be.
Below are photos of the moisture from my recent trek through McCall Preserve. The image that looks like a small stream? That’s the trail.
I could have walked the hard stone trails of pale yellow and brown with my eyes closed. I know her sacred land of brittle grasses and lingering flowers like no other. “Why have I been away so long?” I wondered as a parked at the Coyote Wall trailhead.
The brief respite from the drought disappeared behind September-blue skies and friendly clouds. I slipped out of my raincoat shoving it into my pack. A t-shirt would be plenty.
My old friend beckoned my weary and wounded heart between precipice and boulder. Step by step my heart walked trails well-worn by feet and baked by a summer of merciless sun and no rain. As in past journeys up the exposed fields, the coyote spirit led my mind through my to-comes, my are-nows, and my once-weres.
An old friend, I thought we’d gather beside her fallen Zen rocks and laugh about old times. Remembering my foibles of immaturity when we first met, she held my hand near her wall. But no matter how familiar, coyote spirit always teaches the lesson I need when I visit.
Turning east before reaching her Zen chapel, I trudged toward a cluster of trees. As I did, the damp wind blew behind me. First a smell and then drops caused me to open my pack and slip on the raincoat I thought I wouldn’t need. Mentally rehearsing my route back to the car, my old friend had another plan as she lay another trail before me.
I didn’t question her. I’ve long since learned that coyote spirit never reveals her mystery until she’s ready. And, so, I moved across switchbacks that my muscles had never traversed or maybe my mind had just forgotten.
I met an angry dog in the mist. Wondering whether I’d be huffing back to my car with bloody hand or leg, I spoke to the territorial canine. He wagged and turned around as if to say, “Oh, you’re coyote’s friend. You belong.”
Confused about my location, I wondered again whether I’d bitten off more miles than I wanted. Step by step I hiked into the coyote’s wet breath until a junction lay before me.
I’d been here many times before but it took awhile for me to recognize the blazing bush before me. Without conscious thought I knew which direction was mine. Contentment befell me as I existed within the life force of this holy place.
Remembering other trips through the wilderness — some in which I was baptized in rain and others immersed in sweat — I trekked and paused to peer at coyote’s wall.
She always delivers, though on her own schedule. Wandering mind and focused heart, I would walk or stumble until my old friend gave me the glimpse for which I’d come.
The blue replaced the grey and a ray touched the still-thirsty earth unveiling a delicate pink flower. I knelt before its beauty worshiping in the are-now, thankful for the once-weres, and hopeful for the to-come.
Back at the trailhead I placed my pack on the front seat beside me. “Until next time,” I said as waved goodbye to my ever-present friend.
If I were a car, I’d be annoying to follow. I hike in bursts and sudden stops. Moving, moving, go, go…HALT! If I were following myself I’d be hard-pressed to anticipate my own stops. I stop first, then think about stopping. On a preconscious level, I note something I want to examine or photograph and I cease moving.
I’m sure a brain researcher could explain the neurological functions that occur when this happens. Perhaps my brain is primed and looking for creatures and plant life of interest to me. I do hike with my camera intentionally.
However, I prefer to interpret this biological behavior metaphysically because for me hiking is as much a spiritual experience as a physical one:
Leaving the trailhead, I embark on a journey with the one I call God. Typically, I fail to notice my traveling companion during the early miles of my hike. For awhile my divine hiking partner, allows me to set my own pace. As my muscles move, the toxins I carry with me are released. A space opens up within me that is open to creator and creation.
Once my being is open to the divine under my feet and surrounding me, I begin to notice the divine in the chattering squirrel, the towering pine, and the rock face.
But even so, sometimes as I’m hoofing it I run the risk of passing by someone I should meet. The divine hiker, stops me suddenly. It’s as if my hiking buddy shouts, “Wait! Look at this!”
In that moment my eyes focus on someone from whom I can learn. The most remarkable encounters I have on the trail are typically the result of these sudden stops.
This morning, I met the first wooly worm of fall from whom I learned that there is beauty and purpose in all seasons. She reminded me that life is cyclical. She touched my heart which has been grieving the disappearing summer and gave me joy for the seasonal shifts, each with purpose and presence worthy of my notice.
Earlier, my divine hiking partner grabbed my arm and pointed to the lavender robes in which the late summer flowers clothed themselves. From my extravagantly bedazzled flower, I learned to live fully in the moment.
Cool nights are upon us already. Bitter winds filled with snow will mark the end of lavender displays along the trail. Rather than worrying about what is to come, my floral friend celebrates the present in his best outfit.
As I neared the end of my hike, with trailhead and my car in view, I raced downhill only to have my victory burst halted. The morning sun had conspired with semi-transparent seed pockets to garner my attention.
From this friend, I learned that the future is within the now. While we are influenced by our past, the future beckons us in our becoming. Using not only the raw materials of the past and now but the future we are in the perpetual process of becoming. In this becoming, is where we are most wholly (holy) ourselves.
By the end of the day my annoyance at the sensations brought on by my healing nerves and tissue crescendoes. Bending my abdomen as I sit in the bed the pain, though relatively minor, lashes out at me. I remind myself that these sensations in my belly are signs of healing and I am able to simply be with the process.
Undressed for my shower I glance at my wounds and my grief response overcomes me. Part sadness and part involuntary repulsion, I pause in the moment visually examining the two tiny laparoscopic scars and the 2-1/2 inch incision site.
I feel less-than. I am scarred, never to be the same. I touch the railroad track scarring above my belly button, pleased at its slowly fading crimson claim to my abdomen. I run my finger along its ridge that rises above my skin.
Reaching the scarring beneath my naval, my fingers gently move the skin on either side of the wound. Gently moving the injured area side-to-side, I note that while there is skin covering the formerly infected area, is not yet firm like prior to surgery. The area inside my belly seems to still be growing back together. Whether accurate or not, I perceive a hole just beneath a thin skin covering.
And I wonder.
I wonder if I will ever be whole again. I wonder if I will ever be comfortable removing my shirt at the beach or poolside. Though I know better, I wonder if my wife is as repulsed by my scarred body as I am. My self-image and sexuality is scarred along with my body.
Though the concerns of the day soon dominate my thoughts, overcoming my feelings of repulsion and sadness, they are not as easily repressed as the physical sensations I experience as my abdominal tissue and nerves regenerate.
At nearly twelve weeks post-op, I am ready for this to be over. Completely. Totally.
Diminished into nothingness.
I want the formerly infected incision site to fully heal so that I can imagine I am unchanged. I want to pretend that I never had to open and then keep a hole in my abdomen draining for weeks. I want to be able to pretend that I have a complete colon.
I tell myself that this should be easy for me. I was not diagnosed with cancer nor do I have to face the inconveniences of a colostomy like others.
If this surgical site would just hurry up and heal, I could get on with the business of repressing my feelings. Heck, I whine if the hair shaved off my body prior to cutting would at least finish its regrowth, it would help.
As I drove through my beloved Columbia River Gorge, my thoughts turned to geology. I thought about the geological upheavals and ice age flooding that created this downright magical land. My thoughts drifted to the rocky scars among which I hike. The indescribable aesthetic of the region regularly brings me closer to the divine.
I thought about the wound inflicted upon Mother Gaia, our very planet, as this land of enchantment was formed. Out of a brutish force, a singular splendor remains and beguiles me. As I ruminated in appreciation at the result of violent scars to the planet, my synapses burst into action.
I made a connection and began to wonder. I began to reflect upon the hypocrisy of seeing beauty in scars on Mother Gaia but feeling revolted by my own. Though I have a ways to go in accepting my still-healing body, my worth, my beauty as a beloved child of God, is not contingent upon superficial perfection.
The same divinity that creates enchantment in the Columbia River Gorge is already in the process of doing the same with my body, mind, spirit, and soul.
For the Lord takes delight in [God’s] people Psalm 149: 4a NIV
This is the eighth of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.
Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.