Being in the Dark, Damp Passages

Being in the Dark, Damp Passages
Photo by Tim Graves. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Photo by Tim Graves. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The metaphor of journey and wilderness appeals to my hiker’s soul because there is often much beauty along the path. Like the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert, my trek is filled with self discovery and divine relationship.

As I hike the nature trails of the Pacific Northwest, both the things that move and the plant life touch my soul. That’s why this metal tube with its dearth of the natural slowed me down for awhile.

Placing my arm in the pipe, the cold, damp darkness enveloped me. Creeping past my elbow to my shoulder the unnatural cylinder threatened to overtake my core. I would soon continue my hike in the sunlight of a summer morning but…

But something about this chilly metal tube captured me for awhile.

Resting on my knees and elbows, I peered into the tube, my nose and face inside the dank and unnatural place. Ahead through the water drain the warm sunlight beckoned and I dawdled.

Despite the beckoning warmth of the golden sun, I was not quite ready to leave the divinity of this natural unnatural place.

Holder of the Sacred Energy: We build in our minds a culture of idyllic journeys lined with blossoms, singing birds, and twittering ground mammals and are surprised by reality. When we find ourselves in dark flues with only beckoning light to encourage us, evoke in us the holiness of being present in that space…with you.

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On Sea Lions’ Terms

On Sea Lions’ Terms

On Human Terms

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A hiker walks the meadow above Hart’s Cove on the central Oregon coast. (Click on photo to view larger image.) Photo by Tim Graves

The first time was a mediated encounter. I paid my money at the door and followed the curated signs to the overlook on the rocky cliff at Sea Lion Caves, near Florence, Oregon. The sea lions, as is their practice during the summer, were sunning on the rocks below the site rather than in the cave.  I watched them from above as their voices carried up to the viewing platform. I was mildly impressed with the experience.

This was my first sea lion encounter of my summer vacation. The second would require more time and effort and no admission fee.

On Sea Lions’ Terms

I couldn’t have been more than a mile into the 5-1/2 mile in & out hike to Hart’s Cove when their voices bounced off the tall trees. My silly grin stretched from forehead to chin and jowl-to-jowl as I exclaimed, “Sea Lions!”

Sea lions at Sea Lion Caves sun themselves on the rocks. Photo by Tim Graves
Sea lions at Sea Lion Caves sun themselves on the rocks. Photo by Tim Graves

Who would expect to hear sea lions as you hiked through the forest?!? Certainly, I had not. Quickening my pace I hurried to the meadow above the cove. I wanted to see the owners of the barks and worried that if I didn’t hurry they’d no longer be visible when I arrived at the cove.

Arriving at the meadow above the cove I searched for the sea lions I’d heard in the forest. Without placards pointing to the sea lions or put-your-coins-in-to-see binoculars, I was left to manually scan the deep cove with my bare eyes. Unlike my first encounter, I was only able to see those who bark with the zoom of my camera. This second summer experience of sea lions, unlike the first, was deeply satisfying.

Though the Sea Lion Caves site is not a zoo but a way to view the ocean mammals, somehow it felt artificial. It felt like a zoo; it felt curated and controlled. My first meeting of the sea lions was on human terms. The experience at Hart’s Cove, however, felt more natural despite the further physical distance from which I watched sunning creatures.

Sea lions on the rocks as seen from the Hart's Cove trail (about 1/2 mile away). Photo by Tim Graves
Sea lions on the rocks as seen from the Hart’s Cove trail using the camera’s zoom. Photo by Tim Graves

At an intuitive level, my understanding of sea lions was magnified by the second experience because I met the sea lions on their own terms. Meeting sea lions via an isolated hiking trail, across the distance of the cove, and yet hearing their voices in the wild from many miles away I perceive them as separate from human activity and society.

The implication, perhaps unintended, of the Sea Lion Caves experience is that sea lions exist for human entertainment. They do not.  Sea lions are not land creatures hanging out at the beach but sea creatures who pause on the land.

The lesson I was reminded of on my summer vacation is this: to understand another — be it sea lion or person — I must connect on their terms.  To understand another, I must understand their world, culture, and context.  I must journey to them instead of viewing them through my own values and biases.

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The Things That Move

Roar, Crackle, & Squawk!

Roar, Crackle, & Squawk!

My toes warm,
As the fire crackles at my feet.

My breathing slows,
As the tide roars in the distance.

I am connected to the earth,
As the birds sing and squawk around me.

Peace descends,
And my essence remembers who I am.

Photo by Tim Graves
A trio of Steller’s Jays joined us at our campground in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area during August. This one shows off its bold blue tail feathers. Photo by Tim Graves

Is it an Apartment or Swiss Cheese?

Screen shot of trail map.
Screen shot of trail map.

Climbing the Cook’s Ridge trail I paused at the tree stump and exclaimed internally, Rodent Apartments! Moments later my hiking companion came up from behind and exclaimed audibly, “Swiss Cheese!”

So, who was right? Were either of us right?

In my thinking, I noted the multiple holes. I proceeded to think about which creatures might be using this old stump. Then, I overlaid my human conception of a place with multiple residences to describe it as Rodent Apartments. Of course, I did this in seconds.

Is is a Rodent Apartment or Swiss Cheese? Photo by Tim Graves
Is is a Rodent Apartment or Swiss Cheese? Photo by Tim Graves

I didn’t ask my partner about her thought process. I suspect she reacted to the visual appearance of the stump. In her mind, she then went through objects with multiple holes. Donuts, nope not quite. Golf course, not so much. Finally, her mind arrived at swiss cheese. Yes, she may have thought, this tree stump looks most like swiss cheese. She, too, did this in microseconds.

Each of our descriptions use pre-existing understandings of the world around us. Each of us lay previous learnings on top of a new experience.

We all do this. A lot. We use our own internal thoughts and ideas to describe the external, particularly when encountering the novel or new. The creatures that live in the holes (if any even do) have no conception of apartment building. The holes in this stump were most likely not created in the same process that results in holes in swiss cheese.

The trouble with using our own internal thoughts and ideas to describe the external is that we can begin to think of our descriptions as objective fact. For example, we may describe someone else as “liberal” or “conservative” using our internal ideas of those terms. Our definitions may not be the same as another person’s definition.

We also do this with the one I call God. (I use the term “God” to describe the loving, non-coercive essence that connects each of us, that lives within each of us, and that encourages all that is to respond in each moment to respond in the most-loving way.) For me, the Christian narrative helps me to make sense of the divine. The person of Jesus serves as my teacher, rabbi, guru, and model for how to respond lovingly and become who I am created to be.

However, if I become so tied to the Christian narrative as objective fact that I do not respond in love to others, then I’ve not only become idolatrous, I’ve missed the truth: the love and interconnectedness that underlies all that is.

If I become so convinced of the rightness of my description of the hole-y tree stump as Rodent Apartment versus my hiking partner’s Swiss Cheese, I risk severing our relationship. That’s serious business when it is neither.

Seeking the Origin

Seeking the Origin
A yellow gem emerges from its slumber. Photo by Tim Graves
A yellow gem emerges from its slumber. Photo by Tim Graves

Left foot, right foot. My legs move repetitively one after another. On the packed sand, I move at a good clip in the midst of the adaptable vegetation that thrives on the dunes.

Moving my whole body at an energetic pace en route to the ocean, I only pause to breathe in the noble vistas or tiny gems that border, and sometimes encroach upon, the trail.

The path does not remain an idyllic easy-to-traverse route. Much of the trail is loose sand as I journey over and through the dunes. Struggling as the ground shifts beneath my feet, my stride slows. I feel each step not in my calves but in my right hip (Genesis 32:25).

Left foot, right foot. I am determined to return to the sea from which Darwin posits all life emerged. With each footfall the stress of recent weeks moves through my muscles and exits my psyche. Yearning to commune with the One, my spirit moves my body toward the divine breath that sweeps over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2).

Signs of Confusion
Signs of Confusion. Photo by Tim Graves

As I near the sea, the blowing sands have covered my path. Signs placed to point the way perplex me. Confusion overcomes me. “Which way is the right way?” I lament. Without an obvious answer, without a simple answer or a definitive path to follow, a gut choice is all that remains. I stake out toward the sea of life through the final dune.

Left foot, right foot. My feet arrive on the beach as the wind blows away the morning fog. The sun warms my face as the breath of origin envelopes me.

Photo by Tim Graves
The Breath of Origin. Photo by Tim Graves