Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nature Calls

Green Valley Spa, St. George, Utah
Day 3, Dec. 31, 2009

Around here, nature is so evident that you simply can't ignore it. Its powerful magic is everywhere you turn.

On yesterday's trail hike, I was overwhelmed by the majesty of the canyons, the mountains, and the sky. The color of the sky -- that's what put me over the top emotionally. Even as I write this today, the memory of that color makes my eyes fill with tears.

Mountains, canyons, and blue, blue skies have always taken my breath away. My first exposure to them was the summer of 1962 when I rode the Super Chief to Los Angeles. Prior to that trip, I had been as far as 180 miles away from sweet home Chicago, so spectacular views of nature were no part of my life experience.

But when the train went through the West, I was amazed at what lay before me. I had never seen anything like it. It was holy. A majestic gift from God. His message of love to me and my kind. And yesterday in the canyons, I felt the same way.

I had two other significant moments in nature yesterday. Because it was the last day of the year, Green Valley invited its guests to a Ceremony of Intention at its labyrinth. A labyrinth, as you may already know, is an ancient geometric pattern through which you walk. You walk slowly, following many turns and changes in direction of the path, to the center of the pattern. You think. You pray. You thank. And then you follow the same pattern in reverse, leading you out.

The night was cold and clear. A fire was blazing in the center of the labyrinth pattern. Moonlight and stars made the path easier to see. The dozen of us each brought along lists written earlier of what we wanted to leave behind in 2009, what we wanted to create in 2010, and what we were grateful for. After walking slowly to the center and considering our lists one last time, we burned them. Then we began our walk out of the labyrinth.

Music played -- tribal music of sorts with a strong but gentle drum beat. A flute joined in. The fire crackled. Although I have walked labyrinths before, this was different. I was peaceful, relaxed, and fully aware of both the solid ground beneath my feet and the lively fire I could see and feel. I felt close to the earth.

Lyle and I talked about the experience as we walked back to our room. We had tea and wished each other Happy Anniversary. Then to bed.

After the light was turned off, we were keenly aware of how bright the room remained. We looked up at the skylight directly over our bed. And there in the very center of the skylight was the moon. A blue moon, the second moon in the month of December. A beautiful goodnight kiss from a loving God.

This is an amazing place, Utah. And earth.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

There Will Be Canyons

Green Valley Spa, St. George, Utah
Day 2, Dec. 30, 2009

After attending one stretch class yesterday, I figured I was ready this morning for a beginner's hike. The guide gathered everyone interested in any of the three daily offerings (beginner, fitness, and strenuous) and explained what would be encountered.

Initially, I thought the beginner's trail had "a mountainous spine you will need to crawl along" and the "crack of doom" which required the hiker to press the sides with both arms and legs to avoid falling into a pit. But the guide explained that those challenges were on more advanced hikes. Ours would be simpler. Not simple enough I soon learned.

After a 20 minute van ride, we arrived at the site, a truly breathtaking view even from the parking area. Our group of two guides and eight hikers including Lyle and me made our way through dusty, red sand and around a fence. There we walked over lots of loose rocks and several really big limestones until we reached our first canyon.

I am not a hiker. I am a walker. The mountain air is pretty thin. I am not. I am old. And a chicken. Plus I was not at all expecting the arduous, endless, fear-inspiring trek that this was. We climbed to the top of one canyon. Really hard to do. Huge steps, dozens of them. Then we climbed down. Sometimes, the drop was so steep we had to sit on our butts and just slide down. We slithered between rocks. Up and down, up and down. Then around a bend and up into another canyon. And down. And another. Now slip through more rocks. Finally we reached Snow Canyon.

The worst/best of all was walking in single file along a one-foot wide uneven rocky bridge of sorts that seemed to me was five or ten miles above the canyon floor. I could feel myself shaking as I fought back the tears. I didn't look down, and I just kept walking.

But lack of experience and fear weren't my only problems. I also had no idea of where I was, where I had been, where I was going, or when I would arrive. At one point, when our trip back to civilization started seeming interminable, I actually said, "Are we there yet?" with all the heart-felt desperation of an exhausted five-year old.

Now that I'm back in our beautiful suite, I feel pretty good about this hike. I guess I’m proud of myself for sticking with it. But seriously, what were my options? Sending for a helicopter to get me back to civilization? What got me through was the belief that even though I was frightened, nothing really bad was going to happen to me. I was going to be okay. I guess that's faith.

When we returned, we learned that this 3-mlle walk is the most strenuous and demanding of all the beginner trails. Here's the brochure description:
Slots is one of our most technical trail hikes. It is named for the narrow slot canyons you explore to discover rock art known as petroglyphs, left by the Ancestral Pueblans. There are three main petroglyph sites on this hike with a fair amount of scrambling between each site. The beautiful red rock canyons and manganese-capped sandstone, coupled with the Native American sites, make this one of our classics.
They do this same hike every Wednesday. Since we'll have two more shots at it, I'll be interested to see how I feel next week and the following week at this time. I’ll let you know.