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Archive for January, 2012

Elements

This raven shared with me an early winter storm on the Oregon coast last November. The wind was pushing 40 mph, sending needlepoint darts of ice-cold rain horizontally into our faces. And we both stood there, facing into it, watching the clouds bear upon us, the gray sky indistinguishable from the gray seas, both of us without jackets, relishing the Elements as they rolled over us.

When I was 16, two friends and I walked across the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California. It was a hundred-mile trip, from Pasadena to the Mojave Desert and back, up and down a series of 4000-foot ridges. We did it in five days, with a layover at West Fork (San Gabriel River) on the return trip. We spent the day there because we’d made the trek faster than we thought we would. It was April, Spring Break, the looming clouds spitting frozen rain at us. I brought with me a flannel shirt and a wool sweater. I wore the same clothes all week, drying them out as I lay on granite boulders in the sporadic sunshine.

In 1979 a friend and I climbed Mount San Gorgonio in the San Bernardino Mountains, all 11,502 feet of it, in two days, with a layover for the night at Dry Lake, 9000 feet up. That next morning, awaking before dawn, I moved a few hundred yards away from our camp and spent an hour among the dense pines in exalted, grateful prayer as light gathered around me like a revelation. The air was a soft icy kiss on my skin. The peak to our south, rising like a jagged arrowhead against the purpling sky, reflected an ethereal pink back into the sunrise. The flowers that dotted the once lake bed among the grasses were absolutely still, as there was not a breath of wind. It was cold there, too, in that thin air. I wore a short-sleeved shirt.

I don’t do such things much anymore. My life has become too civilized, too urban, too mundane. Too timid. I won’t walk for more than five minutes without a coat in 40 degree weather. Yet I used to do more than that in 25. I’m embarrassed to admit this failing.

It has nothing to do with age; age is only a state of mind. No, what it is, it’s a failing of character. A disconnect with the world. A hiding behind concrete walls, behind concrete consciousness, behind concrete fear.

It felt good to stand in the damp sand and watch the storm come in. To be embraced by the cold wind, washed by the pure rain. I left that place renewed; if not quite reborn, at least on the right path again.

Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

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