Saturday, March 31, 2012

Perhaps this is why, I fell in love with Norman Maclean

Every year that I was growing up in Olympia, Washington my mom, dad, sister and I would travel home to visit my grandparents here in Wyoming.  In the dusk of a summer evening, we'd often approach Pinedale with seventies rock playing on the tape deck.  Steve Miller, Fleetwood Mac, America... All make for nice traveling music at dusk time in the Hoback Canyon.

My father almost always chose a path along the Snake River, which we considered among our family rivers.  It was there he felt his soul restored and his imagination stirred.

Always we'd watch for wildlife.  Sometimes we saw moose or deer.  One time we pulled over and listened to bighorn sheep at Stinking Springs.  They were fighting on crazy ledges, their slamming skulls, cracking sharp - like home run hits, sent rocks falling down the canyon.  Often we'd stop for a long while and go barefoot in the shallows of the river as my father spoke.   I can still hear the message of his lectures, if not the words, "Long ago rain fell on mud and became rock.  Halt.  A billion years ago.  But even before that, beneath the rocks, are the words of God.  Listen..."

And if my sister, Laura, and I listened very carefully all our lives...we might hear those words.  Laura and I received as many hours of instruction in
listening for God's voice beside a river, or on a lonely mountain trail, as we did in all other spiritual matters.  
As some kind of hybrid Humanist/Spiritualist/Buddhist/Christian, my father believed that man, by nature, was a damn mess and that only by walking a careful path were we able to regain power, beauty, and grace.  To him, all good things, wisdom, as well as enlightenment come by fumbling human experience: cleansing work, devotion to others, dedication to education and understanding and perhaps, even worldly suffering.  Forgiveness, grace, enlightenment and peace do not come easily, they are earned through earthly experience.  Humanity is flawed, and our redemption is in our effort at compassion, empathy and love... 

So sang the sermons of the prairie winds as my faith found its seat in a pew of wildflowers, along the riverbanks and mountain valleys of Wyoming. 

I am reminded of the gift of a painting that he gave me for Christmas one year, and the powerful written message that came with it:

"For Sarah, Girls Winnowing.  This painting has much symbolism.
Annapurna is one of the greatest mountains in the Himalaya.  I grew up in the view of the Annapurna Range (Annapurna I 8,091m) and subordinates such as Machapuchre, or “Fishtail.”  Some would believe the summit is holy, representing the peak of enlightenment and perfection. 
Beneath the mountain two sisters live a simple life, blessed by natural beauty themselves and all around them.  Life on the farm is simple and revolves around work.  They take turns at harvest, building mountains of grain.   One rakes the pile with a wooden tool, deftly tossing grain and chaff to blow away.  Sister stands smiling ready to take a turn with her tray, scooping grain and tossing it in the air, again for the wind to do its cleansing work. For them, the mirroring peaks they build also represent enlightenment and perfection.  They achieve their own karma by following the 8 Fold Path, repeated in the golden border of the frame.  Like life, the mountains are always there for the sisters and they for one another.  Four symbols at each corner of the frame all symbolize eternity and infinity, mystical signs on a small pouch I bought from an old Tibetan lady in 1972, later finding garnets in a stream, such as the two in the yin/yang.  The Symbols in the center of the frame mean “om – which resonates timelessly in meditation and transcendentalism.  My return to the cerulean blue skies took me to Annapurna Himal.   Please enjoy, Love Dad"

Now more than a decade has passed by.  The majestic Wind River skylines of my childhood are gone now, lost to oil drills and roughnecks and the pursuit of the golden machine.  My sister and I are slow to become the wise
cerulean mountains in the distance on which my sons will one day reflect as their twin mounds of grain and chaff sit before them.  But our time, too, will come to pass.  I smile as I imagine my children as they learn how to run by the heaven, the stars, the moon and the sun, and toss their trouble in the air for the wind to do its cleansing work.

When I am alone in the half-light of the evening, the twilight and summer wildflowers of the Hoback River Canyon echo in my mind.  My spirit is mesmerized by the never forgotten sound of water rolling over holy stones, and the ageless laughter of my family.  All existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of a mourning dove singing chorus with the Steve Miller Band as the smell of prairie sage fades to Papa's lilac bushes and a faint taste of wild mountain honey...

Ooh, mama
Well look what's been done
You can only see the stars
After a setting sun
You run for the money
You don't even know about wild mountain honey
Come on mama
Heal this lonesome man
Grow the tree of wholeness
In this desert land 
Come on children
Now learn how to run
By heaven, the stars, the moon and the sun
Come on papa
Your end is the means
Don't trade your love and goodness
For the golden machine
You run for the money
You don't even know about wild mountain honey

For the companion piece to this post, click here: Perhaps this is why, I fell in love with a fisherman.

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