My best friend, her daughter (my Goddess-daughter) and mother (also a good friend) live in Arizona. I live in Maryland. This could be a real curse, but I’m lucky enough to see them once or twice a year. Sometimes we decide to travel when we’re together. This past visit was one of those times–we went to St. George, Utah, to spend a week hiking in the mountains.
I’m still trying to find the right words to in which to pour the experience from my travels. As we drove, the low desert of Yuma gave way to ever-higher craggy mountains. The colors shifted–a slow roll from browns and grays to burnt umber and rust red, and then again to the vibrant, bonfire colors of Southern Utah.
My mountains, the Appalachians, are soft. They are ancient–the oldest range in the world. The millennia have softened their edges and in those smooth hollows the cycles of organic life have turned countless times. Earth now covers them, a host to an infinite bevy of trees, shrubs and other greenings. Their bones only show in a few places now where their slopes and shapes were too sharp or too steep for the mantle of earth to take hold. But mostly you see softness. Curves. And the rolling green cloak the earth supports.
To travel where I did is to spend a week with the spirit of Stone. Raw and red, the sharp edges soar high above to scrape the sky. Towers and twisting spires stretch dizzyingly upward, carved into soaring pinnacles by the unending flow of water and scouring wind. The tiger striping of eons long passed show vivid on the flanks of those jagged peaks. Voices echo in the narrow valleys, rebounding a sound or sigh upward into the desert sky.
This is Stone unblemished and given voice. An unchained spirit, the bared bones of Gaia thrust upward in ecstatic dance.
What did I feel?
Wonder. The immensity of time and scale and distance. The shock of color–red, orange, gold–and the perfect blue of the desert sky.
I marveled at the beauty, at the ferocity of those peaks. I gazed in silence on sun-drenched valleys flanked by immense vermillion guards.
And words failed me.
They fail me still. How can the bright blaze of those places find a home in language? How can I capture what it is to feel gentle mist on my face as I stand behind a waterfall’s plunge over a blood red precipice into the pool below me? These simple symbols cannot hold firm under the weight of red mountains dancing.
So many places sang that deep resonance of the sacred. So many spaces called out for offerings, yet all I carried was my gratitude. And my wonder.
During my stay, a snippet of poetry by Leonard Cohen appeared in my inbox:
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Apropos for such a place. The splendid beauty of the region is the product of cracks, of weakness in the face of wind and water.
And so I write, words rising from the inner stillness like so much smoke. An offering of language, imperfect reflection of the gift of Place; of Stone and Sky.
That’s how the light got in.