East of Portland, further inland then even Hood River, in the mid-Columbia River Gorge the trees become more sparse and the wildflowers and grasses dance in the strong winds. On the craggy bluffs the choreography of bloom and blade is framed by sweeping views of the winding, blue river and the azure & cotton ball sky.
It is here in this land of enchantment in which my mouth opens in awe so that I might taste the sight before me, that my knees grow weak. Like a man before a God I’ve underestimated and over-defined, I drop to my knees before the divine splendor. Steadied on the earth, I discover the divine dome that arches before, beside, and behind me is but crown to the glory of bumblebee, lizard, batchelor buttons, and yellow joy.
And I pray a song of gratitude for the One who loves ostentatiously.
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.
The clouds hung over the summit like a wet towel and, as if the bathroom fan were broken, my eyeglasses fogged up. My first hike to the top of Washington’s Wind Mountain was ill-timed for taking in its views of the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams.
Though I appreciate new trails, I often visit the same trails multiple times. And so it was that two days after my initial hike I was back on this challenging, though relatively short trail. Unless I’d time traveled between seasons, the weather could not have been more different. On my first journey my focus was on small details. A myriad of miniature suns lining the trail lifted my mood. The drops of rain collected on vegetation while moisture saturated my skin and clothing.
Conversely, my attention the second morning was drawn to expansive vistas peeking through tall trees. My yellow mini-suns seemed duller and fewer as Sol peeped through trees. Upon reaching the pinnacle of my journey, rather than a windowless penthouse, I arrived in a glass house affording phenomenal views of the river below and snowcapped mountains above.
Each journey afforded me perspectives I needed to intimately know my new friend, Wind Mountain. Both trips around switchbacks, under and over fallen trees, and along its rocky, muddy, and packed dirt surface taught me something about its character. While each perspective is true, neither one fully reflects the who of the mountain. Two summer mornings spent with my new companion do not wholly inform me of the mountain’s nature either.
Approaching the thirty-fifth anniversary of our wedding, I know my wife better than any other human being. Yet, I do not know her
thoroughly nor she me. Part of the challenge in understanding and empathizing with others — even those we’ve known for decades — is that we are moving targets. I am not the same person at this moment as I will be this evening. Like Wind Mountain, we are each living, growing, and evolving life forms.
Change is inherent in our nature. If we are undistracted, we perceive it in ourselves, our relationships with one another, and with the Divine. For many, it is in Nature that this universal characteristic is most obvious.
Gaia, our living planet of which we are a part, is in the continual process of becoming. As part of the living body that is creation we, too, are becoming. Consequently, as I re-hike a trail or relate with my wife, we influence one another. We have a novel experience.
And, so, I wonder. I wonder why we insist on quantifying one another. Why do we label ourselves and others? When we label or quantify, we seek to define the indefinable. We seek to control the Divine mystery when all we can really do is be. All we can do is be present with each other. All we can do is become together.
Perhaps this is why each trek on a particular trail inspires me. Each pilgrimage affords me another opportunity to experience the essence that permeates all that is, the One I call God. Each hike is about being and becoming an integral part of the unfolding realm of extravagant love.
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.