In the Rockies

In the Rockies
Butler Gulch

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Community of Strangers

Still above tree line, but on the way down from our summit of Twin Sisters peak (11,400 elevation) on Saturday, my hiking companion and I met a couple who had just called 911 for a hiker who was in distress. We recognized the distressed couple as folks we had chatted with on our way up the trail and knew they were seasoned hikers. The man was suffering from severe altitude sickness, an illness that not much can be done for except to get the sufferer to a lower altitude as quickly as possible.

When we reached them, another hiker, who like my friend and I, could not carry the man down the trail, had stopped to be supportive. The wife assured us that help was on the way, but we realized that the 911 call had been made only 30 or so minutes prior to our arrival on the scene.

Before we could say more, two couples who had seen the man on their way up the peak came by on their way down and stopped. The two men immediately said they could carry the man down the trail. He was dizzy, weak, and suffering from bouts of nausea--not at all sure he could stand enough to lean on these two strong men's shoulders.

By this time we had been joined by another couple who wanted to provide support. Encouraging the suffering man to trust strangers to assist him down the path was a team effort. And when the threesome ventured forward on the downward path, it was with spurts and stops--fear, dizziness, weakness, and nausea interrupting the trek.

Encouragement took the forms of--"breath slowly" from various voices, reassuring him that he was going to be okay--and discouraging his "I'm sorrys." At one point a man not involved in the carrying process broke into song, singing "Rock of Ages" in a lovely baritone. My companion, a physician whose clinical practice was long in his past, felt relatively helpless. However, it was quickly clear that he wasn't going to leave the man until qualified ranger assistance arrived. His role was reassurance to the wife and helpful suggestions. His calming voice supported her necessary belief that her husband would be all right. My role was in the background offering silent prayers.

The rangers did come, and my friend watched as they asked the right questions and prepared to administer oxygen before we headed on down the trail. We met the team carrying a stretcher up the path, and as we came off the trail, another four men with heavy packs heading up to assist in getting the man down on the stretcher. We wondered how many men it was going to take to do the job!

The hike, while providing great views and enjoyable time above tree line, was most inspirational because of the team of strangers who were willing to give their time and effort to assist another in a time of need.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Beauty at the Top -- Shelf and Solitude Lakes

The top lake is Shelf. The lower one is Solitude, which is above Shelf. The other pictures are of the small waterfalls and tundra between the lakes. The shot of me is from a rare resting spot about 3/4 of the way up the trail.

As I viewed the photos from these lakes and the meadows between them, I was tempted to post all of them. The beauty of that area will show you why we were willing to push ourselves to make the trek. We will remember the beauty far longer than the fear and pain. I would make the trip up the ridge again, but then I would have to come down. Probably not.
I keep hoping that after a dismantling of another part of the cloak I wove to cover and protect me from hurts (as much as I could)--called the false self by Fr. Thomas Keating, I will come upon a true self piece of beauty and grace in my adult self. It hasn't happened that way for me. But I have found that taking the slime and mean behavior from that little girl Margaret, there is a child who is sweet and kind. The kindness isn't a surprise, but sweet?! I can read high school yearbooks' comments that say "to a sweet girl," but they didn't know me well. No one who does has ever called me sweet!
That little girl self reveals more of herself as I allow her to grieve the tough shell she had to develop to do the forced evil tasks in the terrible meetings. There's no doubt she loved it when she felt power coming from her actions. Then she would realize that she had a part in the evil. That hurt. My spiritual journey has taken me to the core of the child I was when I was forced to participate in unspeakable rituals. There I have found beauty. The trek is worth it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Walking through Fear

Yesterday's hike to Spectacle and Solitude Lakes in RMNP provided more fodder for blogs than I'm likely to use. Climbing for the goal, walking with and through fear, crossing waters, feeling exposed--and more. No, I won't write about all of them today--maybe not on another day either.

For those not familiar with the trek to these lakes, the longest and easiest portion is the trail to Black Lake (above Mills Lake) to the point where the trail opens on the beautiful meadow in the photographs on a couple of blogs ago (about 4 miles one way). The stream in that photo must be crossed to start the steep, steep hike through boulders and tree limbs, rocks and paths that fade into the landscape. Yes, we had been there before and said we would never do it again--a lesson, perhaps, on how we walk the same difficult paths over and over.
In the photo, look at the center through the nearer mountains and think about a trail going down there--stepping off into the air, no not quite, but it can feel as if you are.

Up is easier than down on those steep mountain paths. The same is true for me in life. It's easier to look up and be inspired than to delve into my unconscious for those selfish motivations clothed in helpfulness. You will not see photographs of the treks up and down this mountain path. Our concentration was focused on getting to the lakes, and then on getting down safely.

Early in the hike up, climbing onto a huge Boulder with little to grip other than the rock beneath my hands and feet, I froze. My hiking partner, ever ahead of me, helped me move.
Had that fear been too much we could have turned around and abandoned the hike.

On the downward trek, there were frozen seconds, minutes, frozen fear. "Take tiny steps," I sometimes heard my Yoga instructor's voice in my head say. I sat on my bottom and scooted when I could move no other way. I used my hands to lift my body over rocks or straight down the trail, as if I were a jackrabbit. (Yes, today my arms muscles are sore.)

My knees shook. I reminded my legs that I trusted them, my feet the same. They had safely carried me through 72 years. They would not fail me, would they? Of course not. At one point I was so tired, partly from fighting through the fear, that I wanted to cry. My hiking partner rarely cries so the next thought was that she would just die if I cried. Actually I was far enough behind her much of the way that she wouldn't have heard even loud sobs. But I don't cry easily either. So I didn't.

Fear was my visceral companion on the trek down that mountain path. In life, I learned early to ignore fear. In our small farmhouse, fear was its foundation. Fear of Mother's raging outbursts, of Dad's dark voice, his violence, were normal. Fear of what was next in the days and nights, one I soon learned to repress. I had learned early to walk through fear.

What lesson lies in that fear that has come down the mountain and rests with me in my writing room? Yes, the muscle soreness reminds me of the hike. But there must be a greater message. I've hiked steep paths on mountains and in life. I've pushed fear back as I learned in childhood, been oblivious. Today the fear shows up as a knot in my stomach, a lump in my throat. I've stopped writing and spent time with this fear and what the Spirit is forcing me to see. She gets her ball bat out from time to time, when I am too pigheaded to do what's in front of me.

Yesterday walking the pathway down was necessary. It was the only way out. Today what is in front of me is writing. Not this writing, but that of adding the recent insights that have been given me to the memoir. When I am honest, I find myself more fearful of a "yes" from an agent than from more "nos." I'm accustomed to them. They leave me covered, protected from exposure. This is the fear that I must confront and walk through. It is that which is being asked of me today. Is there something in front of you on your path that you are avoiding? How does fear keep you stuck?

Fear can be holy, protective, warning. It can also keep us from finding our paths, from giving to the Universe that which only we can give. It can keep us from love--Divine love--in its deepest form--that place where we experience the joy that comes from giving to the world our true selves. Walk through the fear. There is peace and joy on the other side.

Now to my other writing.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Traveling the Unknown

The river flows with ups and down, over rocks and through tranquil meadows. The path get steep and rocky, gray and harsh. Whether by the river or in the stony heights, flowers bloom. Walk slowly, be present, observe. Beauty exists in the harshest of journeys. The end-of- season-flowers pictured here were found up the steep gray path above. They were blooming when those on the lower trails had faded.

I always want to go on, to keep climbing. On this trail above Ouzel Lake in RMNP, we would turn around. That was the plan. We wanted to know how it looked above our turn to the lake. How much I want to know what's next on the path of life, to take a look. And when I move ahead, fear makes me stop, hold on to where I know what's there, whether or not it's a good place to be.

I watch the river winding into the woods and wonder how much of the water is lost in the journey. How much of life runs through my fingers when I'm imaging another time. I want to join the river and ride to its end, as if the water would make the trip easier, soften the rocks along the path.

And when, like today, I realize that the discoveries in the darkness, those of my darkest parts, are the ones I have needed for wholeness, I recognize the transforming power of the rocky, strenuous path. When I think of oneness with all living things, it is easy to think only of the beauty. But that is only part of our human, living mess. We are one with all of humanity, including those parts that can and do participate in evil. And it is when with humility, I recognize that my potential for evil is as great as my potential for good, I can allow the Divine Presence to lead my whole self into whatever is next on my path. I rejoice in becoming.

Those harsh peaks have majesty. They are encompassing. When I stay with my harsh days, the revelations are unexpected. Awareness that brightens and lightens--the red and white of the flowers

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


As I went to my blog this morning, I noticed that the title hardly allows for a despondent day. Yet even with inspiration all around us, there are those days.

Blue is a beautiful color, especially the bright blue skies (as I've said previously). The blue wildflowers are lovely. Yet saying "I am blue" or "I have the blues" is a reference to sadness and grief. How this came about isn't pertinent to this writing.

This is a blue morning for me. It's old stuff--and aging stuff. The old feelings of grief are healing when I let them come up and release them to the universe. The Spirit is with me in this process. That is the inspiration in today's journey. I don't have to do this alone. The Spirit comforts and supports the process of healing in whatever ways are helpful and do no harm.

Healing may come from hiking and marveling at God's creation--the beautiful blues. Some days they are hard to see. Today the photos I've chosen are of small blue flowers that require attention to the beauty around us to see--alpine fringe and alpine whipple pestemon. They remind me that the beauty is always here, but it requires my presence to see it. It requires a slower walk. Healing also requires presence and time.
Healing may come from releasing old fears and unprocessed pain. It may come from grieving and letting go of old hurts. The important thing is to live our journeys with space for healing--to be with whatever our unconscious releases rather than to push it back. We remember that this takes courage.

The aging blues don't get me often. I'm fortunate in that way. But there are those days when it seems that my gifts are no longer valuable in this culture. I want to contribute and yet, the contributions I have to make aren't given space. The memoir I so believe is a work I'm called to get out there doesn't attract an agent. I do believe it will when it's time, but when will that time come? Only the Spirit knows.
Be with the blues for healing. Accept that life changes and be willing and ready for those changes. Easy to say; not so easy to do, but the Spirit is there, willing to support and comfort. Take heart. Healing takes courage.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Two of my favorite escapes--the mountains (this one in Rocky Mountain National Park near the Black Lake Trail and the trail to Shelf and Solitude Lakes) and the skies--right out my writing room window.
The number of days the skies are blue in Colorado is one reason to live here. They are often available, and I don't have to get in my car to visit them. Fluffy white clouds were my transportation mode when as a child, I imagined jumping aboard them and riding from our Ozarks farm to NYC, Arizona, China, Argentina, and to the castles of the Arabian Nights.

Now I enjoy the contrasts of blue and white, and the easy way the clouds roam the skies, doing no harm. When they travel rapidly across the sky, 6-year-old Sam and I run in and out of their shadows.

The mountain picture is that of our lunch break's vista during last Friday's hike. To sit in such glorious space and enjoy a sandwich with a dear friend is such a luxury. Even when the steps up a path are steep, when my legs tire and my breath is short, I am happy on those paths. There is nothing like a rocky trail to make one be present to the moment, watching each footstep. Being present to a waterfall or tiny flowers takes me away from my daily life. I am reminded of nature's marvels, and realize that in this part of the country, fall will come too soon.

PS: Maybe some day I will get the photos placed exactly the way I want them!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Draws Us

Walking up a path, what draws our eyes? In nature, or in life, what attracts us? Are we attracted to calm or to adventure, to safety or danger, to the wide paths or to the edges? Do the high mountain peaks beckon us (Long's in the photo)? Those red mushrooms (poison) practically jump off the forest floor, asking for admiration. Light shining through the trees on them, create a beauty that attracts our eyes. Pale blue harebells, tiny little flowers, require us to look carefully, unless we find them covering a high meadow, as we did in the Mt. St. Vrain saddle last week.
A chaotic and fear-inducing childhood made me, for much of my life, unaware of fear. It was such a constant that I didn't notice. The woods of my native Ozarks were protective, the trees my friends. Today I'm drawn to hike where I can go beyond treeline, where the vistas stretch below, where the flowers are often close to the ground or stuck in crevices in the rocks.
In life, I've ignored fear and danger to the point of neglecting to provide for my old age. Yet the journey has taken me back to my childhood's fears so I can excavate and release them. Some have been released into the mountain air, some into rushing waters. Others find me in dreams and as I meditate and write. My eyes still follow the mountain peaks, push for the thin air above treeline, as if moving higher will allow for the freedom to dance, to rejoice in God's creation, to be a moving part of it in a profound way. I push for something higher, neglecting to remember that the Divine is here, now, in my tiny writing room, in me.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wildflowers in Bloom Vs. Humans Becoming

How short their lives, yet how much they give, those wildflowers in bloom in the mountains.

They blossom and show us all of their beauty, yet for such a short season. The season's length depends on moisture, sun, and humans stepping carefully to avoid smashing and crunching those tiny alpine blossoms. While they are with us, wildflowers give of themselves totally. They blow with the wind, raise their leaves to showers, and endure hail and storms. Through all of it, they bloom and are open to our enjoyment.

What can we learn from them? Openness to beauty, to the sunshine that comes after the rain, rain needed to nourish us in ways we do not always understand. Allow our arms and hearts to be open to God's love. Allow our Divine spark to connect to God's and to grow and deepen. Be a conduit for Divine love to those around us. And to know that the rain that sometimes brings wind and storms--turmoil and pain--comes to allow us to grow in unexpected ways. As the flowers die to bloom again another season, we die little deaths to allow us to bloom in another way--to find ourselves on an unexpected path, our journeys taking a different road.

Let us bloom with Divine love, shower it on those around us. Let us not be stingy with ourselves or with others. Let us not be stingy with God. Like the mountain wildflowers, open flowering can be ours. It takes trust in Divine love.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mirrors--Lakes and Ponds

Friday's hike to Lake Helene at the head of Odessa Gorge in RMNP brought companionship and lunch with old friends, views, wildflowers and a perfectly calm day at the mirror-like lake. One of the joys of visiting Lake Helene is that it's a quiet spot during the crowded summer hiking season. Our companions for most of our relaxing lunch stop were those of the natural surroundings--rocks, a field of yellow flowers, asters and pink elephant heads in front of the lake, Notchtop Mountain in the background, and the sounds of a small stream under the rocks where we sat. The lake reflected flowers and pine trees so clearly that it was difficult to tell where the lake began.

As I reviewed my photographs, I was reminded of another reflection in water--that of the pond in the woods on the farm where I grew up. While it was not pristine clear, often surrounded by bright green scum that looked as if it could be ladled up like thick cream, there was a fallen tree in the pond for many years. It was on that tree trunk that I scooted far enough into the pond to see my reflection.

That girl-in-the-pond was my confident. I knew that she was my reflection, but I talked to her as if she was another girl. In a way, she was. It was in her eyes that I saw the tears and sadness that I couldn't make Mother well or the expressions of anger and hurt that she wouldn't recognize me in the meetings. I couldn't be sad. As best I could, I left my sadness with the pond girl. I didn't want to be sad like Mother.

I shared my anger and my secrets with the pond girl too. I could worry about how sad she looked or wonder if she was cold as if she was not me. I didn't worry about her anger. I knew that it, like mine, was locked up where it wouldn't get out.

The old saying, "still water runs deep" comes to mind. Still water's reflections can allow us to see what might otherwise be hidden. Looking back in my mind's eye at those childhood reflections allowed me to get in touch with the grief that I ascribed to the pond girl, to let it flow out of that compartment and dissolve. That outpouring of grief allowed for a deeper appreciation of little Margaret's hidden suffering. It made room for a richer appreciation of clear calm Lake Helene, and wonder about what might have been reflected on its shores over the years.