Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Crest the mile high ridge, descend down switchbacks, through a stand of mountain Hemlock, and suddenly, sparkling there in the setting sun, lies Heart Lake, glacial blue-green thirteen acre gem of the high country in the high country of Olympic National Park. Months of planning, weeks of shopping, several days of hiking finally bring us to our destination. I have an odd sensation as we hike the last quarter of a mile down the north slope leading to the lake: I’ve been here before. Déjà vu? Not really that. Something like déjà vu, but different, as though I’m returning. This is no first time arrival.

I have few regrets about the physical pain involved in the twenty-five miles of hiking to get to this lake, from near sea-level at the trailhead to sub-alpine high country a mile high in elevation. We set up camp beside the lake and I can’t get the sense out of my mind. I’ve been here before.

Upon closer examination, I see a blue-green glacial lake there in the heart of the mountains within the human soul. With a modest effort and a nose for mountain air, take the trek up and over the ridge into that high country alpine cirque and you too will be dazzled, not only by the golden jewels of sunshine scattered across the surface of cool blue, but by the sense of coming home.

Heart Lake is never dry, ever filled and renewed. Mountain springs well up within the lake, keeping these alpine waters at a constant level. I walk over to the outflow just to see how much water pours over the edge, cascading down the mountain slopes to feed into Marmot Lake, three quarters of a mile below, pressing on into the valley to join with the Duckabush river and flow to the east into Hood Canal. Somehow, up here in the sub-alpine high country, by an unseen design, the amount of evaporation and outflow match the amount of upwelling from deep below the surface.

In the heat of summer Heart Lake water is brisk. My plunge into the lake upon arrival took my breath away with the intensity of the cold. The wind from the surface of the water is always refreshing, balancing the heat of the midday high altitude sun. It is an amazing study in contrasts and balance. The guidebook comments that hikers will often find snowfields around the lake with chunks of ice floating along the north shore well into July. The summer we arrive followed on the heels of a dry winter with little snowpack to show in late July. Still, the lake offers a weary hiker plenty of sources of refreshment.

To find your way to Heart Lake, ask Hazel, the park ranger. We bumped into her twenty miles back, along the East Fork of the Quinault River. When I asked her if there was a sign along the trail directing hikers to the Heart Lake way trail, she thoughtfully described the way: “Follow the O’Neil Pass Trail for several miles until you come to the base of a meadow with a rock outcropping, the kind of place any hiker would consider as a stopping place to enjoy lunch along the trail. Head uphill at a big fallen log. Keep your eyes open and you’ll soon spot the trail, darting up alongside a little creek bed. You can’t miss it.” We nearly missed it. We would have missed it if Hazel hadn’t clued us into the secret of finding the Heart Lake way trail.

You’re invited. Come on up the O’Neil Pass trail a few miles until you come into a broad meadow with a scattered rock outcropping. Take a few moments to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery. Check out the ridge high above. That’s where you’re headed. Find the fallen, rotting log. Step up and up, keeping your eyes out for that elusive ascending trail, making your climb across dry creek beds, into the dense gauntlets of mountain Hemlocks, silver Fir saplings, upward along narrow switchbacks to the ridge, then over the edge and the easy descent along the rocky scree, over the wooded rim of an alpine cirque, and there it is, your soul’s Heart Lake, the high country source of your creative spirit, waiting in all her blue-green wonder to refresh you with a renewed sense of wonder.

The way trail to Heart Lake is for busy people who have sensed there must be more to life than the daily grind. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.[i] So sings the ancient songwriter of the life of the soul. If the depths of your soul call out to the depths of the soul of God, then keep climbing the Heart Lake way trail. The first few visits will seem difficult, even wearisome, leaving you a bit out of breath, dry mouthed and muscle sore. Keep returning and the Heart Lake way trail grows shorter and shorter until you find yourself on the shores of the lake without even noticing how you got there, even in the midst of a hectic stressful day in the middle of Manhattan madness. You’ll settle yourself down among the flowering heather, hear the swallows twittering in quick circles above, smell the sweetness of alpine wildflowers, and feel the cool breeze begin to refresh your whole inner being. Strangely, you’ll sense it too. You’ve not only been here before. You’ve been here all along.

[i] Psalm 42:7.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stars Trails Over Haystack


The five villages known as Cinque Terra along the north Italian coast sparkle like ‘proseco’, the local sparkling white wine grown on terraced steep hillsides plunging to the sea. Connecting these five villages is a narrow trail ten miles in length, ascending up stone steps through terraced vineyards, into olive orchards, across rocky headlands, then descending along narrow switchbacks into overgrown fern grottoes and ravines, step by step over foot worn marble down into the next village by the sea.

As you walk this narrow way, you are sure to meet hundreds of hikers coming in the opposite direction. Europeans seem to be less concerned about liability, lawsuits and legal hassles arising from people falling off steep public trails. There are very few handrails along Cinque Terra, a three feet wide trail tracing its way along cliffs rising 1000 feet above the sea.

Over and over, a hiker along Cinque Terra trail has the opportunity to offer grace by simple stepping aside. Allow someone else to have the path. Smile as they pass you. Greet them in one of a dozen languages. You choose. Italian, French, German, Swiss German, Polish, English, Japanese. The world is walking past you as you step aside to wait.

One bright faced Australian man stopped momentarily to thank us for stepping aside. He then commented on the day, declaring the day a perfect day to be alive, marveling at the sheer gift of being alive to enjoy the vista.

The views from the headlands of Cinque Terra are spectacular, with rugged rocky headlands jutting into the pristine aquamarine Ligurian sea, the sun scattering silver diamonds across the vastness of the water. Take a whiff. The warm salt air brings hints of rosemary, lemons and olive. Step aside. For one brief moment, let someone else have the path, the power, the position of control. In that moment, look around and see the goodness of the day spread out before you. There is more to traveling than arrival. Today is a gift, a marvel simply to be alive. As Cervantes quietly declared long ago, The road is better than the end.

Sunday, July 13, 2008



Elected silence sing to me,
and beat upon my whorle’d ear;
pipe me to pastures still and be
the music that I care to hear;
~Gerard Manley Hopkins [i]

Do yourself a favor. Just for fun, turn off the radio, the television, the CD player, the DVD player, the computer, the iPod, the MP3 player, the cell phone and any other sound making device. On this day, choose silence.

Once those pesky external distractions have been removed, try shutting down some of those internal voices, the songs and sounds clamoring for your attention. Elect silence. Listen. Listen to the song of silence. The rhythm of world noise beats upon our ears, incessantly filling our souls with the demands, values, philosophies and clamor of this temporal realm. Ever thought of it? Our ears are shaped like little satellite dishes, pressed against either side of our head. They are wired to pick up signals of the world beat. 360 degrees surround sound, from every possible direction, noise beams constantly into our soul.

Deep within each one of us is hidden a control room with the coordinates we choose to focus those two receivers, our ears. There in the soul’s control room, we can select which signals will fill our lives. As we tune into the song of elected silence, we allow ourselves to be transported to a place of refreshment, even in the busiest of environments. Pipe me to pastures still.

We heard the sound of the highland pipes echoing across the fields, ascending the steep slopes to enchant our ears as we walked along the high promontory of Stirling Castle, Scotland. That classic Celtic sound transported my soul to a place of quiet delight where I could lie down and chew my cud like a contented sheep.

Silence transports us to another space, to another time, to that inner realm beneath time and space where our soul can repose. Perhaps we are afraid, afraid of silence. If we remain silent long enough, we may discover the barrenness within. We may find ourselves admitting to superficiality or to addiction to noise. To give admittance to silence may be an invitation to unveil the broken and disjointed pieces that make up our inner world. Better to drown out this inner uncomfortable reality with an outer cacophony of noise.

Choose silence. The music that I care to hear. Once you’ve tasted a morsel of that sweet food for the soul, you will find you yearn for more. The first strains of that quiet song continue to beckon, calling us to return. When we heed this call, we find lives beginning to be attuned to the inner song of silence. There comes a time for all those who have allowed their lives to enjoy silence, that we discover it was not we who chose silence but rather the other way round. The silence of the cosmos has been waiting for us. That canopy of stars overhead nightly reminds us of the One who brought forth the galaxies while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.[ii]

[i] Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems and Prose, (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1963), 5.

[ii] Job 38:7.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Good and gracious God Grant to our eyes wide horizons Increase our vision to see Beyond the obvious and into the depths Let us walk ways that are new Where we do not know the destination Let us journey in joy and in hope.[i]

In the year 635, King Oswald of England invited Aidan, an Irish monk from Iona, Scotland, to come teach his people the way of God’s love. The king offered Aidan a gift, the choice of any piece of land in the kingdom of Northumbria for the site of his monastery. Aidan chose Lindisfarne, a tidal island two miles offshore in northeast England near the border of Scotland. Twice a day, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne shuts herself off from the mainland as the ocean tides swell, covering the mudflats and causeway.

Today, the two mile long paved road leading over to Lindisfarne is still covered by high tides twice a day. Warning signs caution drivers to check the tide tables before crossing. All over the village on the isle, shops post the tide tables to remind people to observe the time and keep from being stranded.

On this tidal island, in 635, Aidan built a monastery, the first buildings ever built on the island. From that location, he brought the love of God to the people of Oswald’s kingdom through acts of kindness, care for the poor and humble service to the people of the kingdom. The people of Northumbria loved Aidan and his small band of monks from the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne. In Aidan and his followers, they saw the love of God made visible through practical acts of compassion for the needy.

In this simple story from the distant past lies hidden a present wonder. Low tide reveals it. Low tide. Twice a day, by action of the gravitational pull of the moon upon the sea, the waters recede from the coastlands, exposing marine life and treasures usually buried in saltwater. Only at low tide can a beachcomber or a pilgrim walk over to the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne to discover these wonders.

Aidan chose well. He knew something basic about the human soul. Twice a day, when we are at low ebb, out of energy, run down, washed out, only then can we pass over to find our soul’s true rest. We climb a small hill on the eastern edge of Lindisfarne, sit down in the grass and soak in the extraordinary beauty of the island of light, looking out across the North Sea at the vastness and wonder of the sparkling waters. The next time you are feeling out of gas, run down, dried up, weary of life, step off the mainland, and journey across the mudflats at the low tide of your soul, make a pilgrimage over to the otherside, to the Holy Isle where you can sit in the grass, look out over the vastness of the ocean, and find refreshment for your soul.

[i] David Adam, “Wide Horizons”, from Island of Light (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 23. David Adam is Vicar of Lindisfarne and author of many books on Celtic spirituality.