Out West Part IV: Endings and Beginnings

If I had a blog, today I would write about the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

The Rose Window

The Rose Window

For many years, I have experienced the pulse of our living Earth as a song. It resonates in the sigh of the wind on a chilly October night, the aria of birdsong on a spring morning, the gentle hush of snow falling on brown leaves. I was not surprised to hear The Earth Song in the desert or at the feet of the Navajo Grandmother, but Santa Fe, the city of “saintly faith,” gave me one last refrain, a piece of the song I thought lost to me forever. In Santa Fe, I heard The Earth Song in the stillness of The Church. It had been decades since I left the world of traditional Christian worship, but in the Cathedral of St. Francis, where I lit candles and prayed, The Earth Song found me and drew together the circle of holiness, found in the roots of my faith.

A Light in Dark Places

A Light in Dark Places

Inside the quiet sanctuary, I felt holiness in its purest form. As I walked down the long aisle, a thousand Sunday mornings came rushing back. This was a dance I knew by heart. When I reached the front pew, I bowed to Mother Mary, crossed myself, then knelt to pray. The words of the Episcopal prayer book returned like the voice of a long lost friend, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy name….”

I went to the Chapel of the Madonna and lit candles and prayed for the healing of the oil-slicked Gulf of Mexico and wrote my prayer request in the book beside the altar. The kindly old man standing nearby assured me my prayer would be offered at the evening service. I nodded in thanks, tears welling in my eyes.

Evening on the Mountain

Evening on the Mountain

In this pilgrimage, this single trip into the desert, my faith came full circle and I am comforted to know that the same Song binds all those who believe in something greater than themselves. Wherever I walk, and whatever spiritual path I take, I am connected to the same Divine mystery. It may come to me as Arthur, the bear, as one of The Grandmothers, or as the ringing of cathedral bells, the Song remains the same.

As we left the quiet of the cathedral and the solace of the desert, I could only think of one phrase with which to end our sojourn. As we drove east, into the sunrise of a new day, I recalled the closing words of the Episcopal Eucharist: “Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.” Who could aspire to more?

 

 

Out West Part II: Santa Fe

If I had a blog, today I would write about Santa Fe, the City of Saintly Faith.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe

Mom and I reached Santa Fe around noon on the Summer Solstice. As we traveled deeper into the desert, I felt the land speaking to me in the same voice I hear when I am Up North. It occurred to me that maybe I didn’t have to make a choice between loving the North and loving the desert. Perhaps I had simply found a new branch of the same Sacred Tree. I thought about the raven we saw the day before and about the aspens in the high-country, whose leaves danced like those of the birch and popple around our cabin in Ely, and I felt the a current of spiritual energy running  between these two holy landscapes and I knew I was feeling  The Earth Root, through which all things are connected.

Our first afternoon in Santa Fe, we met one of The Grandmothers, a Navajo woman selling silver guitar picks, each engraved with a story. My brother plays guitar and Mom wanted to buy a special pick for him. “Find one that speaks to you,” said the Grandmother, “and I will tell you its story.”

Spanish Roses

Spanish Roses

Mom chose one with a turtle engraving. “The story of Turtle is one of long life. Not only does Turtle live for many years, he also represents water. which is life for our people.”

The Grandmother motioned for Mom and I to sit down, so we could talk more comfortably. Under the shady latilla canopy, we talked about the suffering of the Earth; the oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the destruction of forests and the extinction of animals to satisfy the greed of humanity. The Grandmother asked what Indian tribes were native to our part of the country and we talked about the Osage and the Early Woodland people who lived in the rocky overhang above our river nearly 1500 years ago. We told her about Old Woman Cave and the pottery shards we found there. She smiled when we told her how we treasured the work of those ancient Mothers and Grandmothers; she was glad we gave them the honor they deserved. As we prepared to leave, we thanked her for her stories, and she thanked us for ours. The song of The Earth Root was as loud and clear as the bells of St. Francis’ Cathedral. In that moment we were not white women and Navajo, but sisters, mothers, daughters, and grandmothers who carry the Song in their hearts.

As evening deepened on the longest day of the year, we drove a few miles east of The Plaza and climbed the winding path up to The Cross of the Martyrs. From the cross, you can

Solstice Sunset

Solstice Sunset

see all of Santa Fe as well as the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains. As we sat in the cool dusk, the sun set over the mountains in a blaze of red and gold, the perfect celebration of the Solstice. We couldn’t imagine a day that could outshine this one, but that was before we went to Chimayo.

To be continued…

 

Out West Part I : Crossing Over

Into the Desert

Into the Desert

If I had a blog, today I would write about the desert. My creative springs have been as dry as the grass here in Missouri. Its typical summer weather: Ungodly hot and droughty. I have trouble staying upbeat this time of the year, but one day, things will change and the rains will find their way home. In the meantime, I thought I would share my thoughts on life in the real desert, a barren, hot landscape that I love: The desert around Santa Fe.

If not for mystery writer Tony Hillerman, I might have missed seeing the desert. I have always been a lover of the North Woods: The cool, dark forests; the sparkling lakes and the chance to make medicine with the raven and the wolf had called me North every year. When Mom suggested we deviate from our usual vacation plans and go to the Southwest, I would have said, “No,” except for Mr. Hillerman. His mysteries that described the world of the Navajo enticed me to see that place, to see if that landscape has something to teach me, something the North did not know.

Cowboy Country

Cowboy Country

Mom and I headed west on June 20, 2007.  Late in the afternoon, we crossed from Oklahoma into Texas and I began to feel the spirit of the land reaching out to me. Before us stretched the great open spaces once known to cowboys and Indians. As a farmer and lover of cows, I have a soft spot in my heart for the cattlemen who drove the great herds across these plains. I plugged in my iPod and played the album, Cool Water, by The Sons of  the Pioneers. Mom and I sang along, “Empty saddles in the old corral, where do you ride tonight?” and “Come and sit by my side if you love me. Do not hasten to bid me adieu, but remember The Red River Valley and the cowboy that loved you so true.” I could almost see the dust raised by the cattle, hear the lowing of cows to their calves, interspersed with the banter of the cowboys as they rode the open range. This was a landscape with stories to tell; a place  of high-adventure and endless drudgery, a land of beginnings and endings, the stage that saw the rise of the American Dream and the last days of the Native American hope. I was full of emotion and we hadn’t even reached the desert. I began to suspect this was going to be more than just a vacation.

First Look at the Desert

First Look at the Desert

As the shadows lengthened, the landscape changed from flat, boundless prairie to gently rolling hills. We upped-and-downed for a number of miles, then, as we came to the top of a rather unremarkable rise, we were suddenly in the desert. Mesas appeared, glowing gold in the evening sun. The grass vanished, replaced by sage brush and cactus. The wind found us there, gusting to sixty miles an hour over the beautiful, barren land.

We stopped at a Wayside Rest near Tucumcari, New Mexico and were greeted by an intrepid raven who, in his search for tasty treats, had staked out the rest area as his own. He faced the rising gale, clinging to the picnic table next to us, croaking like a rusty hinge. I tossed him a couple of crackers with peanut butter and he downed them readily.  I wondered if he knew the ravens that greeted us when we arrived in Ely, Minnesota each fall. It was a comforting synchronicity and it made me think, maybe the desert wasn’t such a foreign place after all.

To Be Continued…