Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Desperate Conditions

27 December 2oo8. At a remove, desperate conditions can be desperately beautiful. In this picture of Pikes Peak, dangerously high winds are ripping shingles of snow and ice off the ridges and sucking debris out of the canyons. These conditions are harsh indeed for any mountaineer caught in them.

But from a vacant lot in a windless residential neighborhood miles away, there is no harshness, no danger. There is only the distant beauty of light on atomized snow, of shadows, and of the golden glow of peaceful patches of stillness on the foreground ridge.

Who then has the true experience: The mountaineer struggling against forces that threaten to overpower him and rob him of his vital heat? Or the aesthete looking on from afar, adjusting the brightness, contrast, saturation and other things for which the mountain has no name and in which the threatened mountaineer has no interest.

A wise man once said that a human being is a star's way of knowing itself. But if the human being approaches too close, his wings prove wax and melt, like those of Icarus, and the star knows itself no more.

There is a part of me that wishes to be intimate with violent elements. I have approached these elements and pulled back from them in my past, wings warped and singed but not melted away.

In the end there will be no pulling back.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


4 December 2008. Wind and snow pummel the little evergreen as it clings to its perch on the side of a sandstone cliff. The rock holds the tree in its cleft, gently, protectively, though with a restraint dictated by its rigidity. This is the rock's nature--to hold back, motionless, shaped slowly by wind and rain and time to a purpose it does not consider.

The tree will live a long life, but the rock will proceed at a pace that is glacial. The tree will come to an end long before the rock crumbles, but both will disappear in time, and appear again, elsewhere, in the twinkling of God's eye. We will, I think, be in both places, both times.

In the meantime, you and I look on, capture a moment like this, here and there, from time to time, and think much of ourselves. Foolish we are in a way that the tree and the rock are not. We struggle, while they obey. They do not strive uselessly. They do not rage against the darkness or press needlessly into the storm. They simply endure, according to their natures.

We do also, but with much opinion and manipulation, often lacking the dignity of a rock or a tree. Rocks and trees are not distracted by what we call a higher consciousness. We should consult them about our affliction. We might then learn something of our origin and our destination.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Old Tree

For years, I have hiked this trail (left) past this old scrub oak (right) on my way to my dogs' graves and beyond them, up a canyon, to a tiny catch basin where running water can be found in all seasons. This location is known to a few. It is probably best for it to remain so.

This tree is really a collection of scrub oaks growing so close together that they appear as one, and so I call it a tree. They don't mind. They must be good friends to have survived so long and grown so large together. This is another example of the familiar, the close by that can be overlooked.

It was quite cold, but I had my camera and the lighting was right, and the sky and the old tree standing patiently in the snow near the crest of a hill.