Monday, May 25, 2009


Consider the view from a bench. You’re on vacation, or just a day trip away from home. You get out of your car, walk across the parking log, down the paved walk to an overlook. There you see the bench, sitting empty, perched two hundred feet above the crashing surf of the Pacific. Walk over and take a seat. The show is about to begin.

You’ll find benches the world around. They are placed in strategic locations to offer you the simple gift of rest, a moment to pause, reflect, look and listen. Benches are less about doing and more about being. Public benches are one of the gifts of a truly democratic society, welcoming rich and poor, young and old, singles and couples, harried and hurried to come and sit awhile.

In this newest feature of Cannon Beach Log, you’ll find at least once a month a spotlight on a single bench, a beach bench. The village where I live is filled with a creative variety of benches. I love to take time in town to sit in these benches. Sometimes I’m alone on a lunch break. Sometimes I’m with another person on a walk. “Let’s sit awhile on that bench over there.” We sit together looking out upon the viewscape, seeing what we can see.

The bench featured in this first “Beach Bench” entry sits at Ecola State Park overlook. Ecola State Park was a gift given to the public in 1932 back during the dark days of the Great Depression. This visionary gift was given by several families of Cannon Beach, including the Minot, Glisan and Flanders families. Today, Ecola State Park includes 337 acres, a thin stretch of nearly six miles of pristine forested headlands connecting Cannon Beach to Seaside, Oregon.

Take a look back from this bench. On January 7, 1806, William Clark, of Lewis & Clark Corp of Discovery fame, trekked across the headland known as Tillamook Head, right through what is now Ecola State Park, to trade with the local native tribe for blubber from a whale that had washed ashore in what is now Cannon Beach. The local tribal name for “whale” is “ecola”.

Sit here awhile and enjoy one of the finest views the state of Oregon has to offer, a view looking south and west. South, you can see the coastal range of mountains marching down to the sea, standing guard like sentries over the Ecola Creek watershed. There in the distance is our little village of Cannon Beach, a thin ribbon of humanity, just three blocks wide by three miles long, around 1500 year round residents, and one of the most popular destination resorts in all of Oregon and home of hundreds of beach benches waiting for you to come home and rest and renew your soul.

Note: Photo by Thomas Robinson, winner of 1st Place in the international photo competition on, April 17, 2004.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Above Enchanted Valley


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. After entering the Enchanted Valley of the soul, 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. Finally, after the long journey, 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.

These essays were written 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.(1) 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.

(1) Psalm 42:7

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lake District Rain


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 the 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 slightly 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 along the shores of this 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.

It has been my hope that your visits to this blog have offered you something of that same refreshment we discovered as we sat down along the shore of Heart Lake in the high meadowlands of Olympic National Park. Weary, busy souls need time at this lake, time to simply sit and listen to the sound of bees among the heather blossoms, time to soak in the warmth and beauty of God’s creative glory.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Late Summer Bloom


Sister Wendy Beckett, the famous British nun and art-critic, offers wise advice to those seeking to learn how to meditate on art. Continuing last week’s blog entry, the third way to get into the habit of meditation is taking time to be alone to meditate. Plan this time into your schedule. Deal with such potential distractions as pets, phones and people by removing yourself for this short time into a secluded space where you can be apart. Take time to simply look. Look into the work. See the colors. Trace with your eyes the composition. Discover the story in the painting or sculpture. See your life reflected in the work. Imagine the artist at work creating the piece. See the brush strokes, the textures, the artistic skill. Sister Wendy offers these words of wisdom.

I think we can only really understand painting if we’re prepared to give the time to contemplate it, to sit silently and look at the work. I do spend time looking. It’s that time, it’s that space, it’s that attention, that art needs to unfold…Only looking will make it clear to one.

Finally, allow the habit of meditating on art to shape your soul. As Sister Wendy tell us, I want art to come into their lives and to affect them. When we place great works of art on a stand in our home and take time to reflect upon these visionary windows, we allow ourselves the opportunity to see into the human soul, into the soul of creation, into the soul of God. So have a ready stack of art postcards to place up onto your meditation stand, and every few days, place a new piece in that sacred place. Through a year, these works of art will begin to work upon our inner lives, bringing a transforming grace upon the soul. According to Sister Wendy, there is no need to pay the big bucks to travel to the world’s great art museums. Better to bring them into your home, into your daily life and enjoy getting into the habit of meditation.

Watercolor painting, "Cathedral Tree" by Stefan Robinson, 2008