Nature’s Way

I started reading a book entitled Lassoing the Sun while here in Acadia.  The author, Mark Woods, spent a year traveling to twelve different national parks.  Ironically, the very first chapter, January, takes place here in Maine at Acadia National Park.  One of the points of the year was to get a different glimpse into the parks and where they’re going into the future.  People are, of course, the greatest asset to the parks, but the concern is that the greatest asset is also becoming a great obstacle, as more and more treat the parks as vacation destinations rather than the place of wonder and exploration in which they were created.

I couldn’t help but think of that as I was hiking Beech Mountain today.  There seemed to be a lot more people than the last time I had visited.  As I hiked along, from time to time I also just sat and tried to take in what was before me.  With stops, though, came the passing through of people, who often felt like a distraction to the solitude that would often accompany each stop along the way.  I often wondered if they had even recognized that I was sitting there, usually off to the side or at least somewhat off the path.  I heard two women who were discussing whether their hair color was natural.  I heard two gentlemen discussing their tax brackets.  What maybe most struck me, though, was a young family that came traipsing along.  I saw, first-hand, the intersection of generations in relation to the natural world.

There they were, the grandparents and grandkids going off to pick blueberries.  The kids were beyond excited at the view and the enormous number of berries that surrounded them, overlooking Long Pond.  It was so great to witness their excitement for something so simple as the body of water below, which sparked a wow, a sense of wonder that was exuding them.  But like the others that passed through, there were the others that were more concerned about the lighting for their photo and selfies, a phone intercepting the natural beauty before them.  They quickly tried to pull the kids out of the bushes for the perfect photo, a memory, rather than allowing the kids to be one with this natural world which has so much to teach each of us, and to simply be kids of wonder and adventure.

It stuck with me all day, thinking of that interaction.  At times I found the people a distraction and oblivious to where they were and what we were a part of.  I had to tell myself time and again that I’m making judgment about them.  It all just seemed to lack depth.  As I sat there, now on the outermost rock formation, relaxing and taking it in, I noticed how artificial the world too looked around me, as if like the phone, even my eyes acted as an interception to the wonder.  There was a stillness in the air, prior to the rain moving in, and everything seemed untouched and motionless.  When no one was around, all you can hear were far off voices in the distance of people passing through.  It wasn’t until I got down into the thick of it that I began to see otherwise.  I had to go beneath what I had seen with my eyes to begin to see a world of life at my fingertips, as if all the critters were going about their business before the anticipated weather.

As the day grew on, the air chilled and the rain began to fall; I listened to it bounce off my jacket, zipped to the top.  It’s July but feels more like Fall here in Acadia.  The silence, as the rain began to fall, seemed to deepen and any distractions and noise had fallen to a hush.  Sure, I should be able to find solitude anywhere, but none in the way out in nature, in places like this, which has a way of folding you into her arms and holding you, embracing you, and for those final moments in Acadia today it was there.  It was present.  I was present, no longer needing to feel frustrated and annoyed with the people that passed through, somehow taking from me what I wanted from this time.  They too are on their own journey but it didn’t have to stop me from mine, of moving these days to being one with creation with one great act of Love showing the way.  It’s much too easy to separate from others and judge.  In reality it does say more about us than them.  If I can be grateful for anything it’s that I was even aware of what was going on within me, leading me to my own adventure and wonder in my heart.  Ever so gently and slowly, nature has a way of revealing ourselves to us in a way like none other.  In the quiet, in the solitude, the truth begins to reveal itself and the truth then sets us free to wonder and explore not only the great outdoors but the inner depths of the soul’s landscape being revealed in spite of and before our very eyes.

A Salmon’s Journey

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Now I already know what you’re thinking in regards to salmon. There’s probably one fact that everyone knows about them and that’s that they swim upstream. Big deal. But if that’s all you know, you probably don’t know much about what it is so many eat. And by the way, I don’t ever recommend visiting a salmon hatchery before you go to a salmon bake! If you don’t believe me just try it.

So alright, they swim upstream. Actually, it’s rather fascinating to watch them in the streams trying to do this, as if they were holding onto something with dear life. It looks somewhat abnormal and tiring in a way. It seems to explain why bear are such a predator to them being that it looks like you can just stick your hand in and grab one…although I’m sure it’s not that easy. There’s also the fact that they lay their eggs at the time when they are swimming upstream. Once they are born and ready to head out to salt water they will spend anywhere from one to five years out in the ocean waters, swimming thousands of miles, before returning where their lives began. It’s a rather fascinating story that they return to where life began, to the beginning. Whether they know it or not, though, it’s also the beginning of the end of their lives. When they return, if they are lucky enough to return, to the stream where their lives began and eggs are deposited and fertilized, it marks the end of their lives. It truly is the beginning of the end of the salmon’s life. As soon as they give life in this way they can die, and we saw several simply floating, dead, but also become dinner for so many.

It’s a rather fascinating story and of course can teach us about our own lives as well. I would hope when I come closer to the anticipated end of my own life that I still wouldn’t be fighting to swim upstream. It seems like a lot of work from one end of the spectrum. When we’re young it still feels that way sometimes. We’re still trying to give birth to something new in life, trying to recreate ourselves and redefine who we are. All of which can be a lot of work. It feels quite often as if we are swimming against the tide while at the same time trying to swim with it, adapting, adjusting to new environments, trying, so often, to feel free! Yet, that feeling of swimming upstream can lead to new adventures and opportunities as we grow up and almost seems necessary.

However, as we age, the swim upstream seems to change with us, or should as we grow older. We no longer should feel the need to fight the current so much and learn to accept so much of what comes flying by us, whether upstream or downstream for that matter. We no longer have to take things so seriously. As the salmon age and return home, a journey which probably seems long and arduous, they begin to lose their silvery color. In many ways they become more beautiful and probably even more noticeable in the water, maybe as a sign of the journey that they have made over their short life span. There’s always that part of us that wants to make a difference, wants to give life in a generative way, and as we grow in wisdom, we begin to learn that it’s not so much about swimming upstream or fighting the current, but rather about letting go.

Maybe deep down all those salmon out there today know what it means to make the journey home, to where it all began. What began on the bottom of the creek always is calling them back to their true home and their truest place. It is there that they not only encounter and give life, but in such paradox, where they also face death. In a short span they model the extremes of our own lives. Where we so often avoid and fear death. They learn to embrace it and are called to that place that when new life forms death is inevitable. Maybe it’s not so much the salmon that know all this but we sure do from our own journey’s in life. The more we hang on the more we seem to cling to death, get stuck, become jaded towards life, when in the simplicity of letting go, yet there is nothing simple about it, new life forms and the cycle begins again and for us humans on this journey of moving up and down stream in our lives, mystery deepens and continues to call us home as well, to the home not only in the depths of our being but so far beyond and so much mystery that we can never completely see or understand the journey home.

A Wilderness Solitude

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Wilderness appealed to those bored or disgusted with man and his works. It not only offered an escape from society but also was an ideal stage for the Romantic individual to exercise the cult that he frequently made of his own soul. The solitude and total freedom of the wilderness created a perfect setting for either melancholy or exultation. ~ Roderick Nash

Today is our final day on the land portion of the trip to Alaska and begin the transition to the ship early tomorrow morning. For the final day I opted to set out on a guided nature tour down the Cooper River with our guide, Blake. It provided a little more time to simply sit and be in the presence of the majestic nature that surrounded us, from snow-capped mountains to the depths of the forested national park that surrounded us on the ride.

I’ve been so struck by the number of young people and listening to their stories of what brought them here to Alaska in the first place. So many started with doing similar type trips at some point in their lives and then find their way back for one reason or another. The same was true with this guide who spends the rest of the year in Minnesota with his wife but still manages to come here for ten years to work the river in one capacity or another, from salmon fishing to white water rafting with visitors from around the world who come here to Alaska seeking something. What may start as a vacation for some turns into something much more when they encounter the vast lands that continue to speak volumes and for generations to come.

Blake mentioned how is father has given him a hard time over the years, wanting him to use his college education to be a part of the work force, in the corporate world. I’m guessing that’s what many parents would expect of their sons and daughters. He did it for a time and yet never felt satisfied, as if there were something more for him that exceeded the expectations of his father and his education. It was amazing just how much he knew that river, every twist and turn that led us further down and deeper into the forest. He knew it. He feels it. He lives that river like nothing else and keeps returning despite the demands and expectations to “grow up”, whatever that might mean.

There’s something inviting about the river. Those that know me know that the river has not always been my friend over the years. After nearly losing my life while white water rafting nearly thirteen years ago now, I feared returning to it, despite it often calling my name to return. I may never white water raft again, but I haven’t allowed myself to be paralyzed by fear to return in one way or another. Today was yet another one of those days and listening to Blake speak about it reminded me today just how strong the current can be within us to seek adventure and take risk in our lives, even if it means breaking down the stereotype of what we have called success to live a fuller life, one that continues to feed us in a way that many others will just never understand.

I have found that it is practically necessary to return to nature, even when it has arisen fears within us that we feel will paralyze us for life. I think about Phil the other day who had been attacked by the grizzly in Denali. He may have to face the aftershocks of such an encounter over the course of his life, but it’s not going to stop him from living from that deeper place, that place that runs deeper than fear, the river that runs deep within our soul, yearning to be emptied into the vastness of the sea that continues to feed.

As much as it has been a place that I have had to face my own mortality, the encounter and experience of water remains the place that grounds my very being. Maybe it’s because I have witnessed its power and has taught me to reverence and respect it. Watching it flow so quickly around me today reminded me of the strength that it has to bring about life and death, so often when we least expect it. Yet, there we were, snow-capped mountains, freezing water temperatures, trees in full bloom, and trying to take it all in at the same time. The vastness of the lands around us pale in comparison to the vastness of what landscape of the soul that lies within. Sure there are parts of us that will terrify and feel as if we’re out of control, but a trip down the Cooper today reminded me that it’s not just me but all of the natural world that continues to be invited into deeper mystery and when we can finally begin to let go and accept it, all we can feel is the wind blowing through our hair taking us to places we never could have imagined!

The Call of the Mountains

IMG_1532.JPGJohn Muir, still credited as the Father of the National Parks here in the States was famously quoted in a letter to his sister that “The Mountains are Calling and I must Go”. I don’t think you can ever appreciate such words until you’ve had the opportunity to visit places like the Rockies or here in Denali to understand the draw to such places, places that have cost many their lives in seeking not just the thrill of the adventure but a call from deep within to the wildest places of our own lives and theirs. Although I could never even begin to fathom the undertaking of those that descend more than 20,000 feet to reach the Summit of Denali (Mt. McKinley), there is something within that captivates you to such beauty and majesty, that when you’re in their presence, you can’t seem to take your eyes off of them, as if they have this innate quality to seduce you to a deeper mystery of and recognition that there is something not only beyond but deep within that is much larger than I can ever begin to grasp.

As we ascended today into a much colder climate, walking along Pika Glacier, it was hard to know where to look next, trying to absorb something that is beyond words. For a moment I drew my camera from my pocket, but I still know that the lens will never quite capture an experience that not only took us to the height of the mountains with thirty-some degree temperatures in late July, but at the same time into the depths of my own being, touching something that is known and yet remains so much a mystery. Of course, it was capped off by flying nearly 11,000 feet to capture a glimpse of the majestic peak of Denali, with a blinding sun bouncing off the pure white of snow to the deep blue skies only known to this Easterner during the months of January and February. But there it was, in all its glory.

Even as I sit here this evening, I can see outside the window part of that same Alaskan mountain range, not nearly as high and cleared of any signs of winters wrath. Of all the excursions that we have the opportunity to participate in on this trip, for me, this was number one. Like Muir, there always seems to be the call of the wild and nothing much like the call of the mountains. For someone who spends a great deal of time around concrete and macadam, it so often seems that the call becomes more faint. Some would say that we become nature deprived and when we do, the call only becomes louder and louder within. Today I responded to that call to go to the greater heights and depths all at the same time.

I really cannot imagine what it’s like for those who scale these mountains and peaks and the harm and danger in which they put themselves all in response to this call. No, we aren’t all called in the same way. For some of us, it’s to share the experience and lead others to those very places within, to the Denali of our own souls that takes more than a plane with skis to truly reach, but a symbol and metaphor nonetheless for the seeking of God and self. So there we were, a mere 5,800 feet up standing on the glacier, trying to take it all in. But that’s the challenge for us even in life, knowing we can’t possibly take it all in or know the depths of such beauty and mystery. All we can do is each day respond to the call of the mountains and then go. Despite the risk or any danger of living life with such courage, the more we respond the more we are seduced by the beauty and depth, as if this Mountain has somehow captured our hearts and souls without us even knowing it. For those who choose to stand by and ignore a God of such majesty, it must be hard to explain something so magnificent in a scientific way or the movement of tectonic plates and earthquakes over the years. No, there is something much more here and it captures the minds and hearts of everyone, from the first moment of catching a glimpse.

Today, it was more than a glimpse. It was literally touching and smelling, breathing in something that remains unspoken and yet experienced in such a deep way. As we flew through, shivering at times with fingers chilled, none of it seemed to matter. Nothing seemed to matter because you knew you were in the presence of something great, of something beyond words, of something beyond explanation, and yet, seductive beyond belief, drawing each of us into to the more we seek and desire in life. Like Muir, when the mountains call, you go. Otherwise we torture ourselves, trying to control and direct our own lives, rather than stepping out of the plane into an unknown place within the heart of the Mountain, to have hearts, minds, and perspectives changed by the simple gift of responding to the call of the Mountain.

Homestead Simplicity

There’s something appealing to the lifestyle of some who have made the choice to live here in Alaska. Even they would admit that the greatest deterrent is the winter weather that seems to drag on forever with nearly twenty hours of darkness. I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s like, on top of many feet of snow and temperatures that average well below zero throughout the winter. Yet, some have chosen to make it their livelihood, leaving the lower forty-eight behind for a more simple way of life.

We met some today who have made that choice. Prior to becoming a state, some made the choice to move here with the opportunity to make Alaska their home. Of course, many had no idea what they were getting themselves into, and yet, felt called to move to a much more vulnerable way of life here in Alaska, not necessarily knowing the inaccessibility that they would face on the frozen tundra. Many years later, they remain and now others make the same choice to live off the land or “off the grid” as it is known.

We met one such guy today, Levi, a twenty-eight year old native of Alaska who continues to live on one of the original homesteads, although, made the point that now you have to pay for such a property unlike when Alaska remained a territory. He continues to live without electricity or running water, hunts moose and bear to make it through the year, and grows many of his own vegetables for himself and some of his family. Ironically, we learned that you can even can chocolate cake! Although we questioned him on whether he ever thinks that maybe there is something better out there for him, a life that wouldn’t be so hard. He never went beyond the tenth grade and yet finds himself content. After driving nearly ten miles down the road he then gets out and has to walk about three miles to his place, his home.

It was fascinating to listen to him talk about his life and the amount he has learned by living off the land and knowing the cycles of life through that experience. We all kind of stood in awe listening to him, quite possibly, because deep down we know he’s right. We know that there is something simpler about life that we lose in the busyness of it all and the technology that has often stood as a wall between us and others and the natural world. Heck, he has to nearly climb a tree to get a cell phone signal, which he didn’t even want but was made to by his family so they knew he was alright being out there by himself.

There have been other times when I knew we were out of place as tourists visiting different sites and locations, but probably no more than here. We stick out like a sore thumb here and the lives we lead and live at least give the perception that we stand in conflict with something much simpler, much more grounded and connected, despite living in a state that’s practically closer to Russia than the lower forty-eight, that has harsher winters than any other part of the country, and doesn’t worry so much about trying to live up to the haves and have nots.

I don’t want to give the illusion that it’s a perfect world. They would tell you otherwise. It’s not a place for the faint of heart. It’s tough and grueling from late September until Spring. Most of us would not make such a choice in life. But as we wander through the streets of these small towns, it’s hard not to reflect upon on our lives and all that we have that quite frankly, isn’t even necessary. But we like to have our things and we think they somehow make us more connected and more important. Then you meet people like Levi and you are reminded that there are bigger things in life and deeper things in life that draw us to that simpler way of life, a life we can call home, our homestead in which we now dwell and that gives us life.

We can all learn a little from watching some people, knowing that their lives are not going to end but rather learn to adjust and adapt to whatever comes there way. They’ll admit, they don’t like change, and yet, it’s such a natural part of the cycle of their lives that it’s seethes from their very being. It was a good reminder today of just how much we have and often complain about in our very predictable and calculated lives and yet just how free we can be when we hear the call of the wild from within, calling us home, calling us to this more simple way of life.

The Rumbles of the Ocean

I have now spent the better part of this week with the balcony door open in my room, despite the colder than normal temperatures in Ocean City, simply listening to the crashing of the waves on the shoreline. At times I have also sat and watched it, trying to take it all in, if that is at all possible. I was in some desperate need of time with the ocean, a faithful friend on the journey who has been most consistent. As I sat here the first night, exhausted from Easter and not much time off since Christmas, I was struck by just how worn down I was feeling, to the point that there was endless chatter of negativity that I would need to let go of or allow to pass, even if it meant it would pass as slowly as the waves were crashing. If not, I am aware how easy it is to feed those voices within, allowing them to grow into anxiety and fears, rather than trusting in the “slow work of God” and the quiet voice of the Spirit nudging along.

There’s so much you can miss by simply listening to the ocean. You miss seeing the waters’ foam that builds and crashes with the waves. You miss the erosion of the sands as it has been these days, battered against incessant waves, similar to that negative chatter and the tole it takes on my spirit and soul. You miss the unexpected, all the life that washes up on shore or pokes its head out of the waters, reminding me that there is life beyond what I see. Yet, this time I needed to listen more than observe. I needed to listen to the unknown and trust that “all will be well” and that it’s out of my hands, how they crash, the immensity of them, the erosion that takes place, none of which I can control; all I can do is listen to the known and yet unknown at the same time. It’s been so cold and rainy the past two days that I haven’t been out walking so much, to observe, rather, just listening and listening hard, and as time goes by this week, listening with a better ear, much freer of the negative chatter that was consuming me, controlling me, and endlessly needing and wanting to be fed. Yet, letting it go has allowed what should be fed to be open to hearing and listening to the waves crash, gently, yet with great force and power at the same time, washing away all that has died and opening up space for what is to come.

There’s something healing about the waters, even if just listening to them and their continuous cycle. I don’t know if I can explain it, even though I have tried to write about it, but I know deep down that words cannot even begin to suffice or explain something that is beyond head knowledge or understanding. Something was different today, though, as I ventured out and walked the shoreline for the first time in two days. I heard a noise that I had not heard before. Now there is a part of me that believes it was an illusion that the wind was playing on me as it battered the hood of my windbreaker, but as I walked along, hearing the waves crash and hit, it sounded as if there was a rumble deep within the earth as each one hit. It was similar to the way the house shakes when a heavy truck barrels down the road, shaking everything in its path, or what I’d imagine and earthquake to do to the earth, breaking a part and separating what was once one, making space for something new to break forth. That’s what I heard and experienced as I walked along today, the crashing of the waves and the deep rumblings of the ocean floor, groaning as it pushes forward the strength and the immensity of the waters, swallowing up everything in its path, including my feet which felt its bitter wrath of cold today.

Even as I wrap this up, I sit here listening. No, I don’t hear the rumbling of the earth from my room, but I know what I heard, experienced, and maybe what is happening within me since the two are but one. Somehow and in some way, the ocean has a great deal to teach, if anything, to heal us enough to break us open to begin to see just how connected we are, the larger story that doesn’t belong to us but rather we are a part of with the ocean. The negative chatter has mostly gone, thankfully, leaving me in gratitude that the ocean once again fed me in a way that was necessary, a healing balm that has enveloped me and anyone who takes the time to be one with this massive body of water. Maybe, just maybe, that rumbling wasn’t just the wind blowing through my windbreaker and not even just the groaning of the ocean floor, but the groaning within of a God who calls into the deepest part of the ocean blue, the depths of my being and soul, to a life of love, to the life which God desires.