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Dragon’s Tooth: “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” HDT

 

The eagle’s aerie, a rock nest created by eons of wind and water, a bathing bowl for large birds, provided the perfect perch for meditating on the cragged mountaintop, Dragon’s Tooth.  This quartzite molar was not the actual tooth, which I could see from where I sat, but the aerie was flat enough, and spacious enough, to hold a human comfortably seated in a lotus position; thus, here I comfortably sat instead of balancing precariously on the jagged eye tooth of the dragon.  I planned to stay awhile

The view from the aerie looks out over the Appalachian Mountains, blue-green ridges running like long trains north to south or south to north, depending on your perspective

So much of life is about perspective, our singular vantage point from which we view the universe, dependent upon so many variables, person by person.  My perspective, the high wide-angle view felt definitely loftier, more hallowed, literally more insightful.  Good reasons for climbing, for spending three days and nights alone atop the tooth (and jaw) of the Dragon.  Me with my newly formed drum…seeking connections between earth’s offerings and its limitations, while exploring my limitless thoughts, in search of insight and a wider perspective: the whole reason I had climbed this mountain in mid-May.

On my way up, I passed several streams, healthy waters trickling, gathering, running down the valley cleft. The trail along Catawba Creek soon ascended higher, meandering away from the stream to follow a pine needle, leaf-littered path under a canopy of deciduous trees mingled with a community of conifers. 

Where the climb grew steeper, the mountain’s gently sloping hem gave way to crinkles of her ruffled skirt more steeply inclined. Because of recent rain, this section of the Appalachian Trail included slick stone slabs, narrow wet ledges, and even dripping iron rungs affixed to the rocks to aid with the ascent.  My forty pound pack weighed heavier on my back; determined still, I trudged up stone stairs, tripped over snaking roots, wiped the sweat from my forehead and neck.

A warning sign: CAUTION: the next mile of trail is rocky and steep.  Sheer cliff faces loomed ahead and I wondered if I wasn’t maybe just a little crazy to do this alone.  Rock edges provided a few inches of footing, toe holds, but I had to lean into the rock to keep my backpack, my weight, from shifting backwards.  If I didn’t, if I lost my balance, I was going over, way over.

Sweat ran in rivulets down my back. At one point on the trail, a white blaze arrow pointed straight up.  I took a deep breath, grabbed hold of an iron rung, and another, got beyond the rock face, squeezed between a pair of trees lining the path, too narrow to go forward with my pack, so sideways I inched through this challenging trail.  It was emotionally and physically exhausting, and I wanted to be done with it!

Reaching the top of the ridge did not put an end to the trek.  The trail Ts here… choose left or right.  

I had to fight the urge to de-pack then and there, but I knew if I let down my load, I might not ever heave it up, get it back on my back.  To reach the actual tooth, I turned on a side path winding around small and large boulders knowing that it would take me to an open flat area on the west side of the jaw.

Knowing the Dragon’s Tooth summit to be a popular destination for weekend hikers and campers, not to mention Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, I chose a Tuesday and planned to leave on Friday morning, hoping by chance or good fortune to spend all that time completely alone.  This woodland summit with its modicum of flat ground offered no shelter, no tables, no benches, no latrines.  Exactly what I wanted…as primitive a camping spot as you might find on the Appalachian Trail.  I quickly spread out the pack, set up my tent, and claimed as much space as possible in hopes of discouraging anyone else who might think to spend the night.  

By the way, if you’ve never done this before, you should know there is a guarantee that travels with solo camping:  You will be tested. You will face trials. 

My camp-making complete, I went to refill my water bottle before climbing into the aerie, but the gallon water jug was missing.  WhatHow could that be?!  Frantic, I rifled through all of my gear again.  Where could I have left it?  No way I would survive three days and nights on the mountain with just bread…well, of course I would live, but those days would not be one bit fun.  My mind raced backwards down the trail, retracing my hike… Please, please universe I prayed looking up at the sky.  Please tell me I do not have to hike back down to the car and back up here again…five miles more before I rest.  I thought I heard a laugh.  I had!  My own. The idea of hiking the round trip right now seemed so absurd I laughed, and laughed harder.

Disbelief danced with clarity.  I had two choices.  I could either abort my quest completely, pack up and head home, OR I could see this as the first test…was I true to my quest?  How hard was I willing to push myself?  The good news: I could make the roundtrip without 40 pounds on my back.  It would feel almost like flying.  Ha!  Five miles of mountainous trekking was still five miles; even so, I chose the challenge.  Down, down I went, back and forth, and around.

I tried to gauge the number of switchbacks remaining, but had to let that go because then came the verticals. I’ll spare you the pain.  The round trip was a lot quicker; still, my body ached by the end of my second summit.  I was spent.  I grabbed my loaf of bread and jug of water and took a seat on a boulder in the cleft, the narrow viewpoint in the outcropping between the incisor and the molar, eating my bread and drinking my water while my body recovered.  

When I felt rested and whole once again it was time to climb to the aerie.  Most hikers head left of the cleft and climb up the official Dragon’s Tooth.  But most hikers do not know about the molar, that not only is it accessible, but it also has a rock nest, the aerie, from which to view the world below.  That’s probably because reaching the aerie is neither for the incurious, nor the faint of heart.  

I carried my rosewood recorder in my smaller knapsack with my drum rigged by a strap on my pack. To warm her soft wood, I played scales a few times, then blew some wistful tunes…I was after all, alone, on a mountaintop…alone.  Soon a squadron of sharp-winged swifts swooped in keen-edged diagonals all around.  I chose to see this as a gift, this exhilarating aerial dance of precision, a heralding.

Altogether, I had spent six weeks of Saturdays with a master drum maker (see All things are connected) during which time I sanded strips of oak wood, stretched and soaked hides, drilled and bound wood to wood, plus other drum making duties for drum master, Gentle John.  But also for myself because, finally, after years of thinking about it, I had created a drum, a thing of beauty (from my perspective), sounding the deepest, purest notes, ringing with accomplishment.

Returning from the recollection to the rock, my senses felt finely attuned. I grew contemplative and sat in wonder taking in the view.  What was this affinity I felt for the Native American spirit?  What urged me toward self-imposed vision quests?  Why search for deeper earthly connections, for divine/universal conversation, for enlightenment?  What compelled me to seek the ineffable?

The summer before the most recent May, in the apple orchard on the outside perimeter of our campfire circle, I built with the help of friends a tee-pee made with twelve freshly cut bamboo poles (leaves still on the stalk) measuring 20 feet in length. Together we raised it into place. I never covered the frame, preferring the synchronous sense of shelter and open-air.  One night while camping inside, tucked into my sleeping bag, looking up at the stars, I knew in my heart, I even vowed, I would make my own drum to play inside my own, this very teepee.

Fast forward to my seat in the aerie with day’s light fading, tapping my drum, thoughts of my good fortune dancing swiftly about my head.  Lost in the rhythm and the dance, I drummed until twilight when it was time to leave.  I stood and bowed, asking for grace during my way back down to level ground. Grace was granted. Pleasantly exhausted, I took a pee then ducked into my tent, snuggled deep in my bag and quickly fell asleep.  That evening and the morning made the first day.   

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Wednesday was exploration time.  I hiked a few miles north along the ridge, stopping often to play a tune, to drum a rhythm, to sit as just another lump on a rock outcropping, no more, no less a part of this beautiful earth; to end the second night the same as the first – in the aerie, on top of the world.  To be one…to be none…….

Still, imperfection is always just around the corner.  Mine. Theirs. Those annoying voices, those southern accents scraping across my spine like metal grinding metal, or metal grinding teeth, like the dentist’s office.  It was now Thursday afternoon.  I sat in the aerie hearing voices rise from the trail below.  Sadly they, the three of them it sounded like, were headed this way.  Curses!

After spending more than two days blissed out on nature, I was shown a different reality…my prejudices.  I reluctantly observed one of many imperfections. Though I was supposed to be on the path…giving, accepting, practicing equanimity…sadly, now that I had opened to a wider perspective, I could no longer ignore the truth: I deemed anyone with a southern accent… dense, dumb, or dim-witted.  And because of that prejudice, that preconception, I hoped the humans belonging to those grating voices did not plan to spend the night.

I listened carefully, alertly, as the hikers rose higher, climbed closer.  I could tell by the tone of their voices they were young.  You can tell a lot about people if you listen, really listen to them (you will see the irony in this soon). I guessed the loud talking guys were somewhere between fifteen and twenty, as their twangy teenage voices rose to torment me.  Well maybe, I hoped, they had hiked just to sit on the Dragon for a bit, maybe not to spend the night.  For sure, I had been lucky to camp two days and nights by myself in an elevated state, a true gift.  But I had come to camp three days and three nights.  I did not want to leave, nor would I feel comfortable camping so far removed from civilization with three strange guys…three strange guys with those irritating accents.  No peace there.

Well, I would sit here in the best and highest seat on my rock outcropping; I would try to let go of my unworthy thoughts, my judgments. The true strength of my practice would be to meditate in spite of the disturbance below and behind me, to be thankful for the landscape before me, a view of incredible beauty, so sublime each siting caused a kinesthetic response.  And then, because of practice, the internal voice went into choir mode, Hummmm easily lent itself to Ommmmm.  While I followed my breath with my inner ear, my optical eye followed the rock wall outline of forests and fields once fallow, now bursting with green growth, a patchwork quilt of corn, alfalfa, and more.

Continuing to breathe in deeply, to feel my infinite connection, the voices behind me quieted to mere whispers, then disappeared…nature prevailed…a profound sense of complete, perfect bliss…soon “I” disappeared…just the rocks, the mountains, the trees, the wind…whispering a favorite Emerson quote, I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of god.

Moments passed, or maybe I floated once around eternity….. eventually, I returned to the present and saw that afternoon had rotated to early evening.  The silence was palpable……no voices. My prayers had been answered: I would have my last night on the mountain alone. 

I climbed down from the aerie…slowly, carefully…one could so easily fall off the mountain’s face. Tense fingers gripped crags while my boots poked around for spaces big enough to hold my tiptoes.  Soon I was back on the ground, making my way to my tent by climbing over and squeezing around huge boulders.  Looking down, being sure not to stumble over roots or rocks, thinking about my bread and water dinner, I was stopped short.  Oh dear, those three teenage boys.

“Excuse me, m’am” the tallest and skinniest of the trio spoke in his southern, mountain born drawl.  I tried not to grimace.  At least he had manners, even if his speech sounded like his tongue was trying to talk over pebbles rolling in his mouth. “Would it be ok if we camped here tonight?”

Disappointment emptied my hope, a deflated balloon my heart, yet what could I say?  “I don’t own the mountain.  I had hoped to be alone tonight, but I guess it’s ok.”  I sighed. “You’re not gonna make a lot of noise, are you?”

Again, the tall one, “No m’am, we’re just gonna do a little rock face climbing up the Tooth, have a little dinner, then go to bed.  Wanna join us?” He motioned first to his friends, then to the ropes already dangling off the fifty foot high cliff.  The other boys looked up at him, looked at me, and smiled.  I could see now they were early high school age, harmless enough…still.

“Ah, no thank you,” I demurred.  “I’ve never climbed with ropes and gear.”

“Well, you were up there in the eagle’s nest, so fear’s not stopping you.”

He called it the eagle’s nest, like I do, I thought.

“No, not afraid, just that, ehhh, it’s going to be dark before long. You can’t climb in the dark.” I was hedging, still not convinced I should trust these dudes.

“No worries; we came prepared with a couple of floods to light up the top, and for the lower rocks,” I saw as he pointed, a small fire burning in a nicely constructed stone pit.  A cast iron skillet and kettle sat on a rock in the middle of the fire.  These guys appeared to be quite competent.

“There’s nuttin’ to it. C’mon, we’ll show you. Oh, yeh, I’m Jake, dude next me, brother Billy, and the short one we call “Short Pants.”

“Johnny,” Short Pants corrected with a heavy sigh. Then Johnny turned and leapt to the rock face, scrambling halfway up faster than a lizard.

“Wow, you’re good,” I shouted to him. I had climbed this giant boulder before, but never from the west facing vertical backside, always from the somewhat easier sloping south side, the side everyone climbed to “conquer the Dragon.”       

Offerings: “I am grateful for what I am and have.” HDT

I collect stones, driftwood, shells, etc. It’s not an easy thing for me to resist bringing them home. But I have discovered that if instead I make an offering with them, and record that act, I am less inclined to acquire and more inclined to “let it go.” After all, how much do we need? And of course, some of those rocks are quite heavy.

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I actually took all of the rocks you see on this ledge home with me. In the back of my mind I kept feeling gluttonous for that act. Finally, I went alone and gave them back from whence they came.

This second time, on my way return to the car, I spotted this boulder.  I held in my hand a lovely, palm-sized red stone I had picked up after replacing all the others.  I am a rock cleptomaniac. Should I take home my hand-held stone?  Should I leave it in this quiet place? 

” I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite, only a sense of existence. Well, anything for variety. I am ready to try this for the next ten thousand years, and exhaust it. How sweet to think of ! my extremities well charred, and my intellectual part too, so that there is no danger of worm or rot for a long while. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague, indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment. ” Henry David Thoreau

Stroke by Stroke (Life as Art)

sculptor

“He is the true artist whose life is his material; every stroke of the chisel must enter his own flesh and bone and not grate dully on marble.” Thoreau’s Journal: June 23, 1840

“She, too, is the true artist whose life is her material; every stroke of the chisel must enter her own flesh and bone and not grate dully on marble.”

sculptor-2

Stroke, n. — a mark made by drawing a pen, pencil, or paintbrush in one direction across paper or canvas.

Whether stroke of the chisel or strokes on canvas…the painter’s canvas…the canvas of life, we create what we choose to live, we live what we choose to create.  Creation: a beginning and an ending.  Alpha and Omega.

This time, perhaps, you choose a life uncommon.

If the muse smiles upon us, our efforts may look or feel divinely inspired.

Often our attempts at chiseling away at the marble, at the rose stone, at the life before us is a bungled lump of clay or dough.  That clay, that dough, we must fold in upon itself and simply let it be; let it rest.

DSCF0425Stroke of Dawn, n. — a time of day.

We think when young (not far beyond born, living our most recent dawn) we think we are gods and goddesses who will live forever. We are gods and goddesses falling upward* …born artist or activist, oligarch or musician, capitalist or clown, pauper, priest or penitent.

We will live forever.  We do live forever.  Matter cannot be destroyed (Law of Conservation of Mass Energy).  We cannot be destroyed, yet we disperse.  We come together and we come apart. ** Where do you think goes the slough of skin, the hair follicles, the detritus of your ever-changing body?

During these processes we will get wounded.  And OH how we may hurt!  It can’t be helped.  It may even devastate?

What do you wish for in your second, third, twenty-seventh apostasy?

canoe-paddle-2Stroke, v.an act of moving one’s hand or an object across a surface, applying gentle pressure, or constant pressure, [eternal pressure].

One stroke, then another, we paddle our swift, sometimes rickety, crafts through life.

Across the River Styx and back to first shore – ever vigilant.

Either we face our demons, or we may become one.

We are Warriors.  We are Angels.  We are Friends.

We live fiercely!  Let us not be Foes.

If we are fortunate, we stroke the skin of those we love and laugh with abandon.

Stroke, v. the act of hitting or striking someone or something a blow.

sculptor-3Art is an act of activism.  To make Art we must Act.  Art.  Activism.  Redundant?

Yes!  Strike the chisel over and over again.  Seek perfection.

I shall pierce my HEART and feel it bleed love and wonder, fear and frustration, sorrow and awe.

Sore feet, sore hands, sore heart and mind; I want to experience everything!

And having felt it all, decide what is good for me and what is bad. “…And not to feel when i have come to die I never really lived.”

I will write it; I will dance it; I will scream it from the mountaintops.

I will drum it; I will test it; I will inhale it from the canyon ravines.

Discernment marks my quest, Yet I trip so many times: over the stone and stumble, under the rock and rumble,

Schisms, and chasms, and stuck between.

I shall pierce my SOUL, leaking promise and potential, to know the truth of IT…to be true to myself this moment in the universe as honestly as I am able in the spiral dance of life.

Stroke of Genius, n. – a thought or an act of brilliance.

May we be so fortunate to follow in the footsteps of those we revere.  Oh, to experience even a single stroke of genius!

Stroke, v. – to caress.

I have felt the winter wind whisk mere wisps of hellish flailing; every living thing shuddering, trembling, quaking at once.  I have felt the whisper of love on my cheek, the breath of those I adore caressing my skin.

Stroke of Luck, n. –- something good that happens to you by chance.

Having your best friend nearby when you are struck down by circumstance.

Stroke, n. – a sudden disabling attack or loss of consciousness caused by an interruption in the flow of blood to (part of, all of) the brain, especially through seizure.

We cannot know when life’s circumstances may seize us and render us incapacitated.  It is terrifying to feel yourself lose control…wave-1as if out on a great, wild sea watching the water’s wide wave approach, lifting you up to dizzying heights of fatalism.  Yet, if you are fortunate (I cannot speak for always), a calm overtakes you at the beginning of the tempest.  You give yourself to the fates as willingly as you give yourself to a wise teacher.

We ride into the storm relinquishing ourselves to destiny, the ending of which even Fate is not certain…though sometimes, it seems, the outcome may be a matter of choice.

On November 12, 2016 I suffered a stroke.  I write now from the visual perspective of 120 degrees having lost partial sight, peripheral vision, in my right eye.  I write now from the philosophical perspective, the intuitive perspective of a great many degrees more.  I am a fortunate one.

Stroke, v. – an act of moving one’s hand or an object across a surface, applying gentle pressure.

Oh mother, father, lover, child, friend…sister, teacher, adversary: caress my fragile, fight-filled, sometimes frightened soul that I may know we live.  Soothe me with murmurs of eternity…

In my next apostasy:

img_0066Far below…I’m the shadow on the hill.

High above…I’m the ghost rain tendril.

Gaze across…the plains of Augustine.

I’m the cloud…living out my next dream…next dream…next dream.

Look at me, I’m flying!

Further Inquiry:

Music and Book Credits

  • A Life Uncommon, Jewel
  • Falling Upward, Richard Rohr
  • Ain’t Life a Brook, Ferron

Art and Photo Credits (in order of appearance):

Sculptor at work – stock photo

Weight Loss – Alexis, 2003

Self-Made Man – Bobbi Carlyle, 2000

Dawn & Vulcan Clouds – Beverly Salas, 2016


The Unbearable Darkness of Seeing (Part 2): The Light Side of the Moon

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” Henry David Thoreau

Though I have posted a couple of photo collages, I have not written my blog since January 2015 when I was body slammed by circumstances beyond my control (see Unbearable Darkness…Part 1 and before that Points of Convergence).  My belief system, my ego, my career all collapsed in a crumble of lost dreams and what I then felt were false “signs.”  Life kicked the chair out from underneath me, and I found myself wondering how, where, or even IF I fit in.  I was despondent.

Gratitude It took two weeks of mourning lost opportunities and employment before I could even begin to feel as though life were worth the effort.  Soon, my friend Louisa invited me to participate in a 100 Day Project.  Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to feel and express gratitude for all the good fortune I had received.

Augury Four days into my gratitude project (keeping a daily journal about the people, events, and things for which I give thanks), after he spoke at a UNM climate change rally, I met Dr. Bruce Milne: Director of the Sustainability Studies Program at the University of New Mexico.  Many people had told me over the course of two years that I must meet Dr. Milne for he and I shared a goal of sustainable lifestyles as a way of life.

Ironically, following on the heels of my Unbearable Darkness and false signs, upon introducing myself and quickly outlining my skill set, Dr. Milne said our meeting was a “sign”… the answer to a prayer he had sent out to the universe.  He described his prayer to me along with several other auspicious signs he had received just prior to my introduction.  As he spoke, I saw the sparkle of a tiny, joyful tear in his eye, as if to say, “The universe does deliver what we pray for.”  Turns out, he had wished for someone with exactly my skills (along with a minor in Sustainable Studies) to help him transform two of his dreams into reality.

Had his prayer changed the course of my life?  When, exactly, had he sent out that prayer? Did the fate of my true path require the collapse of an alternate destiny?

Gratitude Dr. Milne had also been deeply engaged in expressing gratitude.  To that end, he had developed and written “The Method: Mindfulness and Gratitude Practices to Achieve Personal and Collective Sustainability.” How’s that for Points of Convergence?  He wanted his text transformed to a book. Thus, a month after my world collapsed, I was hired by UNM’s Sustainability Studies Program (an alternate dream of mine) to help create a book. Additionally, through our collaboration, we brought Indian scholar, environmental activist and anti-globalization author, Vandana Shiva to the University of New Mexico where she beautifully encouraged a sold out audience to believe, “We are all seeds of creativity.”

…the answer to someone’s prayer.  Giving up on signs and no longer believing in fate, I had become someone else’s sign and fate.  One has to laugh.  By helping to  bring gratitude, peace and most importantly, light, into my community, I had allowed light to shine in my heart again.  Thus continues, the Circle Game.

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The Unbearable Darkness of Seeing

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  The Unbearable Darkness of Seeing: Part I

“The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us.” HDT

I awoke to find myself falling down a deep, dark hole. How could this be happening when all the “omens” were aligned?

Yet now it seems I must agree with those who believe that people who see “signs” and Points of Convergence (see blog, Jan 14)) see nothing but a human construct born out of desperation: the need to ascribe meaning to it all.  But there is no meaning, there only “is” which is to say, our state of being.

Good god!  How many times must we have our world rocked before we give in…give up…realize coincidences are the children of chance?  Fate does not exist…merely odd coincidences we want to call fate because of our seemingly inherent need to understand at least some of the chaos.

There is no meaning!!!

Convergence is happenstance!  I have been running a fool’s errand lo these many years…always looking for the “connections” the universe has planned for me. Ha!  Such hubris!  The universe does not care. The universe does not contrive..the universe is but a molecular construct. Do not relegate events to unseen powers!  That is just more/different religious bullshit.

Searching for Thoreau…lost.  Where? I do not know!

Security…the word exists but the state of being secure does not.  Security = chimera = an illusion or fabrication of the mind; an unrealizable dream. a construct with no real foundation – a castle in the air.

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” HDT

I set in pounds upon pounds of solid foundation. I did my work, more than my share, yet in the end I looked the fool.  Do I now tell Thoreau to go to hell?  He wouldn’t hear me anyhow.

“There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.” HDT

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