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Yesterday we hiked along Taylor Creek in the Kolob section of Zion, traversing the creek several times, passing wildflowers, woods, and two recently restored log cabins, and finally arriving at Double Arch Alcove, the spectacularly sculpted and colorful rock formation pictured above.
“This is a good place to get spiritual,” Monte said. And it made sense to me, since I was already feeling sort of spiritual, by which I mean I was experiencing a sense of awe and gratitude for something beyond ourselves.
But it didn’t sound like anything Monte would say.
“You’re getting spiritual?” I asked.
“Spherical,” he said. “I’m trying out the spherical thing on my cell phone camera. It pieces together a series of pictures, from where I’m standing to the sky above, and 360 degrees around, if I want to. The full effect of the place.”
But call it what you will. We were there amidst the grandeur of nature, free to be outdoors together in the middle of the week, able-bodied, attentive, paused before beauty like pilgrims at an altar. I felt the presence of things seen and unseen, and I felt transcendent and appreciative and loved. It was a spiritual moment. Spherical too.
Yesterday we hiked one of Zion’s “less popular” trails, Wildcat Canyon Trail, a sandy stroll through pine forest, stream bed, and open meadow, with lava rock formations and views of white cliffs. I generally like loops more than out ‘n backs, but this one was an out ‘n back, although we made the wrong turn at a junction on the way back and ended up doing our own little cross-country detour loop as a result. I guess we walked ten miles or so, all told.
I was thinking as we walked about how often I try to fill in silences and shouldn’t, and how long I believed that letting go of my sadness would be a kind of betrayal, and how very red is the Indian paintbrush here. I was thinking about how easy it is to confuse what you cannot do with what you forgot you can do. I was thinking about the many things I will never learn to do, all those boats that sailed without me. I am a boat misser, that’s for sure, and yet I am a woman who was walking on The Wildcat Canyon Trail with two of the finest people I know, sometimes being quiet.
And I was thinking about how life is a loop, not an out’n back. We three were young together once, and occasionally we reminisce, but Steve says he doesn’t look back. What’s the point? Those years are gone, and he’s happier now than he’s ever been before. Besides, we aren’t even the same people anymore…are we? (I have to admit we’re not. My own journals often make me wince.) Anyway, it all went by so quickly. No one can possibly grasp in advance how whoosh-fast everything happens, so we can’t even use the knowledge to forewarn others. The only smart thing to do is appreciate this pretty-good now.
“I was scared,” he said. ”You saved me.”
“No,” she said. “You’d simply forgotten what you can do.”
That’s the way it is sometimes. We forget what we are capable of. We get stalled by doubt and second-guessing. We listen to the wrong voices or keep our heads down so low we forget to see the sky.
It was nice to remember that today while standing on a ridge in the Kolobs, looking out at red rock mountains and cinematic clouds.
Or walking up a dirt road to a waterfall, sitting behind it, watching its sparkle, hearing its rain-sound and the familiar song of a canyon wren.
Leaves and sunlight and sandy earth, stone-strewn creek and creaky gate, front porch of a friend’s house, chicken sandwiches on a blue plate, promise of an evening walk.
It was a good day for not forgetting what we still can do.
Cactus flowers and lemons are growing right outside the window, and the grassy hills are already summer-brown, and the world is a palette of warmth and gold.
I’ve been going easy on myself. Lazy girl, basking in light, letting me be.
Gathering thoughts, stories, lemons.
Tomorrow we’re going to Utah. I’m in a Utah state of mind and looking forward to it.
In the heat of late afternoon…. by Gary Young
In the heat of late afternoon, lightning streaks from a nearly
cloudless sky to the top of the far mesa. At dusk, the whole south
end of the valley blazes as the clouds turn incandescent with
some distant strike. There is a constant congress here between
the earth and the sky. This afternoon a thunderstorm crossed the
valley. One moment the ground was dry, and the next there were
torrents running down the hillsides and arroyos. A quarter-mile off
I could see a downpour bouncing off the sage and the fine clay
soil. I could see the rain approach, and then it hit, drenching me,
and moved on. Ten minutes later I was dry. The rain comes from
heaven, and we are cleansed by it. Suddenly the meaning of baptism
is clear to me: you can begin again, and we are saved every day.
“In the heat of late afternoon…” by Gary Young, from Even So: New & Selected Poems. © White Pine Press, 2012.
Donna gets up early and sits in the sunlight on the front step with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. At any given time of year, she knows where the warmest, sunniest spot will be, and she knows the creaks and whispers of this old house, every quirky angle of its walls, every odd turn and staircase, the precise location of the light switches and the little drafts of air that enter here and there, the pockets of coolness, the scent of each room.
“I could walk around in total darkness in this house,” she tells me, “and I’d know exactly where to go. I’d move right through the dark and wouldn’t bump into anything.”
It takes a long time to get to know a house so well, and Donna has lived in this one for more than twenty years. She and her husband Mike raised children here, now grown and gone, shared meals, celebrated birthdays and holidays, appreciated every-days.
The house is over a hundred years old and frankly looks its age. It’s not one of those narcissistic gals all gussied up with aluminum-siding and pastel colored trim. It’s a house that has evolved over time, a house that has been weathered into its own kind of beauty, wood aged and faded and flaking artfully, structures sagging and leaning into grace, the warp of antique window glass rendering the sky a little dreamier…a sense of story everywhere.
There’s a shed out back, maybe once a carriage house, now a depository for broken chairs and bicycles. There are prayer flags and Christmas lights, and a pizza oven that looks like a small shrine of stones, and Donna’s rambunctious garden. There’s a circular table and a cluster of lawn chairs, and there have been many gatherings of friends out there on summer evenings, with me sometimes among them. There were kids, too, whose voices I can almost still hear.
If I were to take you inside the house, you’d see colorful paintings on the walls, shelves of bowls and books and memorabilia, masks and mirrors, comfy chairs. Nothing seems deliberate or knolled, and yet it works, in the way a patchwork quilt does, or an eclectic collection of music. There’s a small white plaster statue of a girl Donna bought one rainy day in Florence (I know because I was with her) seated on a miniature chair by the front door, and there are coats slung casually on a hook, and photographs of familiar faces. Everything says welcome, stay awhile, improvise. And because it’s Donna’s house, and Donna is Donna, there is often the fragrance of a pie or cookies baking or posole simmering on the stove or fresh basil pesto. Almost certainly there will be lemonade.
It’s been a helluva month or two, but as is often the case with difficult times, it’s also been instructive…and now things have stabilized to the point where I can back off a bit, at least for the time being, and I am newly aware of the wonderful-ness of an ordinary day such as this one. I am shining with blessings.
You’re probably wondering, “What’s she on?” Nothing! Everything. Just being alive. I’ve had my head down too long, neglecting my own pursuits, staring too relentlessly at aging and misery and mortality, which of course is always there but need not be contemplated so continuously.
“There is another world, and it is in this one.” So wrote French poet Paul Éluard. Another world, and I am suddenly in it.
Yesterday I saw three whales going by, not one, but three of ‘em, huge and slow, spouting and turning, utterly majestic. I cried.
Even little things seemed auspicious. I was heading into town because I had a package to return at the UPS place, and after watching the whales, I rounded the bend and there was a UPS truck parked by the side of the road. I just handed my parcel to the guy. No need to drive any further.
As I walked up the driveway, I heard the song of the canyon wren. And the fragrances of orange, lemon, and macadamia blossoms wafted in the air…and my lilacs, 19th century ladies on the verge of swooning.
My heart is beating thank you thank you thank you.
The Hero’s Journey
I remember the first time I looked at the spotless marble floor
of a giant hotel lobby
and understood that someone had waxed and polished it all night.
and that someone else had pushed his cart of cleaning supplies
down the long air-conditioned corridors
of the Steinberg Building across the street.
and emptied all two hundred and forty- three wastebaskets
stopping now and then to scrape up the chewing gum
with a special flat-bladed tool
he keeps in his back pocket.
It tempered my enthusiasm for “The Collected Sonnets of Hugh Pembley-Witherton”
and for Kurt von Heinzelmann’s “Epic of the Seekers for the Grail,”
Chapter 5, “The Trial” in which he describes how the
“tall and fair-complexioned “knight, Gawain,
makes camp one night beside a windblown cemetery
But cannot sleep for all the voices
rising up from underground -
Let him stay out there a hundred nights, the little wonder boy,
with his thin blanket and his cold armour and his
until he understands exactly how
the glory of the protagonist is always paid for
by a lot of secondary characters.
In the morning he will wake and gallop back to safety;
he will hear his name emblazoned into toasts and songs.
But now he knows there is a country he had not accounted for,
and that country has its citizens:
the one armed baker sweeping out his shop at 4 A.M.;
soldiers fitting every horse in Prague with diapers
before the emperor’s arrival;
And that woman in the nursing home,
who has worked there for a thousand years,
taking away the bedpans,
lifting up and wiping off the soft heroic buttocks of Odysseus.
– Tony Hoagland
Note from Cynthia: I read this poem in the New Yorker several months ago, and I immediately loved it. I think it’s a beautiful tribute to all the humble, hardworking “secondary characters” throughout history who tend to the unglamorous and essential work without fanfare or recognition.
(I had some problems with the formatting, so the spaces and line breaks may be off, but hopefully not in any significant way.)