Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pinch me! I’m in Washington!

I kept stopping on our path through the woods to marvel at the fact that I was no longer in the dry, colorful woods of Wisconsin with blades of grass and leaves crunching beneath my feet; but I was in Washington, in a wet and wild, misty forest with a bed of soft pine needles and dirt below me. The dark soil drew a contrast with the emerald green moss and ferns, growing up and out and over everything! Somehow I had gotten all the way out here and now I was in the place I had so often imagined, the place so many others, too, left homelands to discover - the Pacific Northwest.

There is something special about the area and the people of Seattle. I read in a book that the British expatriate writer Jonathan Raban mused, “Seattle is the only city in the world that people move to in order to get closer to nature” (Wild Seattle by Timothy Egan).

It’s not hard to see why, what with views of the Cascades or the Puget Sound and numerous forests to explore and wildlife, while the people and the city meld into it and love it and foster hobbies to enjoy it and stop their cars along the beach to watch the waves of the Puget Sound over their lunch break. I haven’t met anyone yet who takes this environment for granted. I pray I never do…for creation seems to want to be enjoyed.

Take for example, the tree trunks and rocks covered in shaggy, bright green moss so when you reach out and touch them, they feel like a dog’s curly hair under your fingertips! I named my favorite, an especially mossy one, “The Petting Tree.”

Here and there are splashes of bright color, in the face of a wildflower or in a multi-colored mushroom – such as this one, that grows out a rotting tree trunk.

“Old forests have a singular mystery, where young life embraces death and rot,” writes Timothy Egan in Wild Seattle. How is it that life can bud right out of death?

These splashes of color surprise me every time, and so much of the living and the dying are companions intertwined that you hardly know where one ends and the other begins. If you looked away and then glanced back, would the dead be coming to life?

This fallen tree, with its curved limbs sprawled out like the legs of a gigantic centipede…when the magician snaps his fingers, will the force of life return to it? Could it come lurching across my path?

 Or this tree, standing above the ground on its roots. What lovely fuel for the imagination! Is it the cozy home of a little leprechaun who sleeps under its roof? Or will it thrust its roots forward and start walking, tree and all? I can't help but think that these are the scenes books are made out of, like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.


 Every forest feels enchanted. It is a stage for the circle of life and the drama of created things reaching for the sun. From high up in the tree trunk, this daring "Zacchaeus" fern waves its leaves to catch as much sunlight as it can, reminding me of the short-of-stature tax collector, who climbed a tree to see Jesus through the crowds.

Light! It always comes from beyond and all the plants are reaching towards it. It moves across the sky to shine through the mist and to reach all things as it goes its course, and to quench the desires of all that stretch out to absorb its warming rays.

The hikers whom we pass on the trail up the mountain greet us. They are friendly, asking us how we are doing, and it feels good to share the joy of being out here with fellow human beings.

I realized why the artist Thomas Kinkade’s paintings always seem so fictitious to me. My friend says there is nothing dead in his woods; all nature is alive, and the light emanates from all things rather than one source. Perhaps this was the way it was in Eden, nature pure and fruitful, or the way it was meant to be…but those paintings do not mirror the world that I inhabit. Let me rather be found in these woods I know, where, though nature is fallen, she shows that even the dead can rise again.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Eye has Not Seen, Nor Ear Heard, What God has Prepared for Those Who Love Him

“The Lord said to Christina: ‘Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from you mother’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make you name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.’ Christina went as the Lord directed her, and Ginger went with her.” (from Genesis 12:1-4a, modified).
Past the woods and rolling fields of Wisconsin to the plains and badlands of North Dakota, across the vast expanses of Montana and through high mountain passes in the Rockies to the misty Cascades, all the way to the ends of America,  where the ground meets the sea, she went. And an orange tabby cat, wide-eyed but trusting, went with her, as well as parents, who accompanied her on the journey westward to see where she was going before turning back for their home country. 
North Dakota, so flat and barren under a huge dome of sky. Just earth and sky, touching each other.

Train rolling through North Dakota plains.
Big clouds in a North Dakota sky.

The patron saint of travelers, St. Raphael the Archangel, meets us in Fargo in the Healing Shrine at Sts. Joachim & Ann Catholic Church. "Take courage, the Lord has healing in store for you, so take courage!"

My first glimpse of the Rockies in Montana
Heading for the mountains.
"Climb every mountain / Search high and low,
Follow every highway / Every path you know.
Climb every mountain / Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow / Till you find your dream!" - The Sound of Music

Our Lady of the Rockies
In Butte, Montana, a 90-foot statue of Our Lady of the Rockies, stands on the Continental Divide, hovering over the valley below and where we stayed the night. Our Lady’s hands are outstretched as it to pour out God's graces upon all who travel across this wild but beautiful country.

Before departure, as I sifted through my stuff, making piles of what to leave behind and what to give away and what to take with me, I found a bookmark. The picture on it drew my eye because it looked like Washington – tall, evergreen pines pointing their treetops into the sky, mirrored in a crystal lake below. 

The verse on the card read: “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Book of Ecclesiastes). On the back of the card was written a note to my dad in my grandmother’s handwriting, “Happy 27th Birthday, Gene!” 

Sometimes God gives us obvious directional signs and this was one of them. I knew this had floated down from heaven from my own father. What did his 27th year hold for him? I wondered. Was it also a time of taking leaps of faith? He'd kept the bookmark until he died and it had ended up in my box of cards to speak to me on this day in my 27th year.

As I said goodbyes to home and family, one of my friends told me he likes to think of the world as having two suns – one always setting, the other always rising. Somehow that mystery got captured in a photograph I took of the sun setting over Lake Washington just after my arrival.

One thing is certain; when we leave it all behind to journey with the Lord, He opens our hearts to new heights of experience, to grace, and to oceans of opportunity. 
Standing on the edge of cliffs, sloping down to the Puget Sound, she peered out across the expansive water and stared as far as she could over the tops of sails in the marine harbor and out towards the far islands and mountains and prayed, “I have given up over half of belongings, and I have left family and friends behind. You have called me, Lord, and I am here. Your servant is listening.”