When I’m Ready

When I’m Ready
Oasis to Come
Oasis to Come. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License, BY-NC-ND 3.0

On the trail,
all alone,
I’m not.

On the trail,
a partner,
sometimes silent.

On the trail,
a sojourner,
always present.

On the trail,
a voice,
a companion.

***

My companion,
listens,
as I cry & yammer.

My companion,
encourages,
free thought.

My companion,
appreciates,
randomness.

My companion,
smiles,
and love and hope hug me.

My companion,
speaks,
in word, sign, & through vistas.

***

When I deny, avoid
and question,
the companion waits.

In my confusion,
along the other paths I find,
my companion marvels at slug & frond.

When I worry,
and the world wounds my soul,
my companion points to  the lilies.

When I avoid,
choosing the present,
my companion warms me in the now.

When I push  back,
shouting “I hate you!”
my companion sticks around.

When I yearn & crave decision.
my companion offers a word or sign,
wrapped in hope, love, patience, & a hug.

***

A decision,
an issue,
flutters inside.

A decision,
interacts with,
bud & puddle of mud.

A decision,
an issue, pros & cons,
take turns deep within.

A decision,
with each step,
floats to the surface.

A decision,
is apparent,
and I lack trust, & confidence.

A decision,
eludes & hides,
behind fear and angst.

A decision,
waits patiently,
until I choose to hear.

***

On the trail,
all alone,
I’m not.

My companion,
listens,
as I cry & yammer.

When I deny, avoid
and question,
the companion waits.

A decision,
an issue,
flutters inside.

***

When I’m ready for joy,
the word or sign,
wrapped in hope, love, patience, & a hug await.

 

Coyote Spirit

Coyote Spirit
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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.

Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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.

Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

Dancing with Scars

Dancing with Scars
Dancing with Scars
Photo taken by Tim Graves in Washington’s Columbia River Gorge near Mosier, Oregon. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

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.

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Learning From Fallen Rocks

The zen rocks as they appeared in June 2012. Photo by Tim Graves
The zen rocks as they appeared in June 2012. Photo by Tim Graves

Even from a distance I suspected something wasn’t right. Arriving on the sacred ground which lies part-way up the Coyote Wall trail my suspicions were confirmed. I don’t know what caused the rocks to tumble. Given the storms that I know they successfully endured, I am doubtful that a natural occurrence caused the fall.

I could be wrong.

Not knowing, my mind fills in the gap. I imagine a biker racing down the trails losing control and inadvertently sending the stones to the ground.

I could be wrong.

Not knowing, my mind fills in the gap. I imagine a group of people laughing and kidding around. Getting rowdy, one of the group inadvertently bumps into the sacred altar. Rocks fall.

I could be wrong.

Though I don’t know what caused the rocks to tumble, I find some solace in the attempt to re-stack them.  Did a remorseful biker frantically seek to restore the altar of small boulders? Did she reject antiseptic wipes and a bandage to her knee while she sought to rehabilitate the altar?

I don’t know.

Maybe the laughter and kidding around turned to shock and dismay as boulders tumbled to the ground, the very ground I deem sacred. Maybe formerly joyous hikers’ moods turned contrite and serious as they carefully sought to restore the zen rocks to their former state.

The zen rocks as they appeared in July 2014. Photo by Tim Graves
The zen rocks as they appeared in July 2014. Photo by Tim Graves

I don’t know.

I am not likely to learn what caused this sacred altar to be altered. My imagination can create a myriad of possible scenarios to explain the destruction and the attempt to restore the sacred space to its former condition. None of my imagined scenarios change the present condition of a the sacred site along the Coyote Wall rim trail. (See A Whisper of a Trail and Sacred Ground.)

Conjecture and supposition — my imagination — does not have the power to change the present moment. However, they does have the power to change me.

Each interpretation of the unknown is accompanied by emotions. Some of the emotions have the power to make me miserable. For example, if I chose to imagine (and believe) that vandals maliciously destroyed the tower, give feelings ranging from sadness to hurt to anger to overt hostility a green light.

And so it matters what I choose. I decide who I want to be. And so I choose to focus not on what I don’t know but on what I do know. I know that the rocks fell and have been reassembled in a new way by someone.

I am disappointed and grieve the change in the zen rocks. Those are legitimate emotions; I own them. I hold them for awhile and then I will let them go. Though I know those emotions are my human desire to prevent change, I take note of them. I learn about myself from those emotions.

I recall that during a wilderness time in my life, this sacred ground with its seriated rocks were important to me. I honor their contribution to my well-being. Like the transformed zen rocks, I have changed. I am no longer in that wilderness. Reflecting, I learn that in my humanity, I still fail to live fully in the present. In recognizing and learning from my emotions, I accept myself. Like every one of us, I am on a journey unique to me.

Because I want love to be the vehicle in which I travel, I focus on the zen rocks as they exist today and carefully choose what I imagine. I think about those who re-stacked the fallen rocks. Though I don’t know, I choose to see a group effort at restoration.

Pondering the sacred stones, I see an upper spire that grows out of many rocks. Combining my chosen imagined reconstruction with their present state, I am reminded that love is communal. Just as each stone in the altar’s reconstructed form depends upon many others, it is in our mutuality and interdependence that love grows.

Because I chose carefully how I would react to the loss (or transformation, really) of a physical monument, I perceive hope. I am reminded that our individual and mutual hope lies in our one-ness with and appreciation for others and their journeys. Our personal and collective hopes lie in choosing to interpret the experiences of our lives through a lens of love.

___

Related Posts

Sacred Ground July 19, 2012
A Whisper of a Trail October 24, 2012
Evolving Fish Loses Face June 27, 2014

A Whisper of a Trail

A Whisper of a Trail
Photo by Tim Graves

The well-worn trail begins along a crumbling former highway, passes between boulders and rocky paths and at one spot even features its own stone steps. Nonetheless, it is essentially a switchback trail through an arid, grassy field. The switchback reaches near the cliff-edge periodically before returning to safer parts.

There is, however, a whisper of a trail that follows the edge. Rocky, steep, and risky, the almost non-path gives freely of itself if you get close enough to the edge. Though holy, this is not a place for the erratic; the wisp of a trail requires steady, sure footedness particularly in damp weather. It requires risk and a willingness to trust that the Gorge winds will be faithful and gentle near the edge. Coyote Wall’s height is unforgiving.

A mere fifteen feet from the sacred ground – marked by large Zen rocks – the sotto voce trail becomes silent. Guarded by rocks, the silence of the trail physically models the pilgrim’s hushed posture approaching the holy place.

Photo by Tim Graves

Whether the culmination of my journey is the flowery meadow that overlooks Mt. Hood or the tall firs that crown the Coyote Wall, I always pause at the Zen Rocks. I bask in the warmth of the One who connects me to the ground beneath my feet, the mist that flows over the wall, and who loves with abandon.

Typically, I lay on the ground, arms wide, opening myself to the love that is in the universe. I level with God, confessing sins, and ask for help. I feel the arms of Mother Earth wrap around me. The peace of the Spirit settles over me as my breathing slows and the sunshine or the mist dance on my face.

When I am ready, I rise and continue my journey upward toward the meadow or back down the wall to my daily life.

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The Mad Men Who Distract

The rocky landscape of the Coyote Wall area of Washington state. Photo by Tim Graves.

We were sitting in a rocky, high-meadow in the midst of the dry, parched grasses characteristic of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in late summer. It was a place of natural beauty but it was wilderness. Have no doubt about that, it was a place with few obvious signposts.

As we talked, the middle-aged, African American woman saw me. That is, she “got me.” I was an open book to her, yet she listened intently. Her expressions were earnest and encouraging as she nodded her head when I spoke. Her questions clarified. They were non-threatening and helped me to think and consider my future. I knew she was on my side. I knew that she desired for my welfare and not for my harm, to give me a future with hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

She touched my arm and patted my shoulders as I sputtered out tentative responses. She wiped my tears looking at me as if I was the most important person in her life. Her love poured over me like baptismal waters cleansing me of pain and hurt. I never wanted to leave her presence.

Until…

Don Draper, in his crisp white shirt, tie, dress shoes, and dark suit walked through the meadow. She didn’t look away from me. I looked away from her. The propaganda-creating Mad Men character distracted me from love that cleanses my wounds, washes the dirt from my hands, and removes the crusty conjunctivitis from my eyes. His church of self destructive desires, his sacraments that poison cultures of respect and caring distracted me from the One. The creeds of false needs and empty doctrines distracted me from the love for which humanity desperately yearns.

The Divine One of many ways never gives up on us. The healing waters that encourage us to love ourselves and others never stop flowing, but the mad men of religious and secular institutions seek to build dams to divert and distract. They push and shove us to fight over a few drops of moisture in a dirty glass while the voice of the divine woman in the dry meadow whispers in the breeze. She calls  to us and waits for us to choose to live in her inclusive, expanding love.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29: 11-14 NRSV. Read in context.) Photo by Tim Graves.

A Glimpse from the Wall

Photo by Tim Graves

I shout,
   I inveigh,
      I accuse the gust,
         the breath that feels so cruel on my neck.

Climbing,
   uphill,
      feeling the pain in each muscle,
         I cry, scream, and weep.

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 25:46b NRSV)

Finally, sitting on wall’s edge,
   I peer down at the waters below.

The very breath of God,
   sweeps across its surface,
      right,
         left,
            east,
               and south.

From the risky rocks,
   I get a glimpse of the sacred directors’ movements,

May I trust the breath that gently encourages us,
   to choose the choreography of love,
      even when we feel but one inexplicable gust.