Monday, October 18, 2010

Mountains sublime

I never was a mountain climber.

Kinda’ hoped I would be, I suppose.

Thought I was a mountain man, to be most accurate.

Bought real gear from EMS and REI.

First pair of boots were Vasques with Vibram lug soles.

Even sewed a couple Crestline kit down vests.

Grew out of both of ‘em long ago.

One was for my first wife.

But I am a mountain walker. I don’t expect to rappel

off any peaks in the years I have left, or dangle ice axes

off my day bag. Might need some crampons, though.

I expect I’ll take on a few more mountain trails in my

senior years, hopefully with a grandkid or two.

Not this time, though. Focus on writing this time around.

Just being here, down below, in the presence of such

geological greatness as Challenger, Kit Carson, and

Crestone peaks, feels like I am in the presence of power.

I am reminded of my Grand Canyon experience.

First time I came forward to the South Rim I stood,

as one of their teachers, with a vanful of high schoolers seeking science credit and maybe even a little adventure.

Whatever the distractions, I was duly impressed.

Too much haze between us and the North that day --

this is a national park, after all --

but overall a meaningful first experience with one of

the seven Great Natural Wonders of the World.

But that next visit, following a school year’s absence and an awaited reunion, the tears flowed within the first minute back on the South Rim at mid-day.

It’s a powerful and affective kind of thing.

One feels it. Size and scope take on an awesomeness that leaves one, literally, a little breathless. Yes, altitude, but more than that, it’s just grand.

Big. Stupendous. Gargantuan. Deep.

Like a whole mile deep. And about three miles across.

All done by wind and water and a little shifting and lifting of the plateau the Canyon still wants to sink back into. Then the wind in the pines while you stand on the rim. Hopefully you’ve found a quiet space. It’s not too hard to do, but if you stick with the main tourist stops, you’ll hear enough German and Japanese and Where’s the pop machine? to detract from the experience.

It’s much quieter here at the base of the Sangre de Cristos,

but the natural power and majesty are likewise tangible.

I read last week in the Crestone Eagle that an experienced hiker lost his life up on Kit Carson last month.

A guy in his 60s, not unlike me. He had climbed over

four dozen 14ers in his time and had just added Kit Carson to his list. Nobody really knows what happened, but he was supposed to retrace his ascent back over Challenger to get back down. His two hiking buddies did what they were supposed to. This guy got separated and apparently tried a shortcut that cost him his life. Made the local emergency squad risk theirs just to pull his body off the mountain. I heard a couple helicopters going into the mountain again last night after dark.

Maybe another rescue. Hope not.

This is my second visit to Crestone and Nada.

I have been stopped in my tracks, again, any number of times by an amazingly beautiful sunset or a picture of a mountain bluebird or mule deer or clouds over a mountain that just calls out to be taken.

This is big sky and big mountain and big, flat valley country.

It’s a desert with occasional snowmelt streams. One zen holy man has offered that Crestone is one of the two or three best places in the world for a spiritual retreat. I’ve not seen near enough of the world to make that conclusion, but living here, for a time, in a scrub desert landscape at the base of powerful 14,000+ feet peaks, is the stuff of inspiration and reassessment of humanity and our place in the Natural world.

Pretty good place to write, too.

Today’s elder idea: The 63 year-old male was an experienced hiker going for his 52nd Fourteener.... The victim’s wife, daughter, and niece drove down from their home in Parker, Colorado and were counseled by victim’s advocates from the Sheriff’s Department.

from The Crestone Eagle

October 2010

One can never be too sure of things.

Jack London

a thought by the man in ‘To Build a Fire’

image: Challenger Peak, a real 14er, whose trail starts just up the road from Nada.

You could come to Nada. See:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Crestone quiet

In a way, you’d have to say a person has to work pretty hard to get to Crestone, Colorado.

It’s one of only two towns I know that are actually at the end of the road. The other is Homer, Alaska. The only way out is to go back the way you came. The road you’re driving on will end pretty soon, either in a dead-end or will peter out into a forest trail. In either case, you and your car are not going over that mountain.

It’s not that things aren’t developed in Crestone, though things are pretty basic. I stopped by the post office the other day to buy some first class stamps. Seems the post office is really just a series of PO boxes with nobody home. Not even a stamp machine. I imagine it’s open some time to ship boxes or buy postage, but it wasn’t obvious by reading the postings on the door. If you need serious civilization/shopping, a body has to drive north to Salida or south to Alamosa, each about 45 minutes away. It’s a bit of an investment in time and energy.

Crestone has a couple jewelry shops, a used-stuff store, an organic food market, the aforementioned post office, a credit union, and not much more. I hear there’s a new mercantile store that hopes to sell some hardware items later this year. And except for occasional weekend complaints aimed at The Laughing Buddha bar and dance operation, Crestone is a pretty quiet place.


People talk about going to quiet places. Peace and solitude and all that. Well, such things are said about Crestone. Just how quiet is it?

Pretty often here, if you just stop and listen, you can hear wind singing through piñon pine needles. You can hear the occasional high altitude jetliner. Their silent flashing is fun to watch at night, too, in the crystal clear skies overhead. There is bird song here, of course. Mostly magpies and piñon jays.

But quiet. Well, here at the Nada Hermitage last Sunday afternoon I took my lawn chair out away from my private cabin just far enough so I could sit and study Challenger peak overhead to the east. And just to make it feel more like a picnic, I popped the top on a Modelo Especial and grabbed the box of Cheez-Its. So while I’m sitting out there in all this quiet -- doing my best to be mindful -- I picked up my beer and took a nice, long swallow.

Odd. An unusual sound. What was it? Neighbor’s dog? I took another swig. Same response. I listened to the opening after the next sip. Wasn’t effervescence in the bottle. That sound I recognized. But this new sound. Another sip. There it was again.

Heavens. The sound I heard and felt was the pop of effervescence inside my mouth. One more sip. Yup. That’s it.

All I can say is that if you go someplace where you can sip a nice cold beer and hear the bubbles pop inside your head before you swallow, that’s a quiet place.

And that’s the Nada Hermitage at Crestone.

You could come. See:

Today’s elder idea: My friends, perennial city dwellers from California, are impressed with the silence [of the Arizona desert.] The silence, like the visual setting, seems unreal. Overdramatic. Contrived. We talk about it, dispelling the silence in our immediate neighborhood, for a radius of a hundred feet or so. But when we pause in our conversation the silence is there again at once, complete, centered in our minds. An absurd stillness....

Ed Abbey

excerpt from ‘A Walk in the Desert Hills’

from Beyond the Wall (1984)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Walking arroyos

Oh, it’s been lovely in the mountains. You don’t want to know. Rest assured that I’ve been doing some work. Here’s a new poem.

Walking arroyos

Though gravel paths are published as preferred

route through sage and piñon pine, causing

least disturbance in this fragile desert community,

the Others who live here follow other ways,

learned and sensed, that lead them to food and

water and places where they feel safe.

I find in walking these alternate throughways -

these mountain arroyos - a language of the Mother

spoken through Earth and Water: the unconditional

embrace of a molten heart, cast up and seething,

with the cooling of air and the comfort of rain, loved

and worked by desert wind, into an exposed wholeness

of conglomerate self, knowing sand and rounded granite

as relatives, and a revealing of Truth in our time

assuring us that we are part of all this that comes and goes.

Today’s elder idea: The Day undressed - Herself - /

Her Garter - was of Gold - / Her Petticoat of Purple....

Emily Dickinson

excerpted from Franklin 495 c.1862

photo: ‘Walking arroyos‘ by Tom Schaefer. (2010)

Taken right outside my hermitage. I’m telling you, you could come.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wind in the piñon

If you are a regular Back Porch blog reader, you recognize the long gap between this entry and the last. Well, it’s been a busy time, but it’s been busy because of my trip back to this lovely place pictured that you just might recognize.

I am immensely lucky to return to the Nada Hermitage in Crestone, Colorado for a two-week writing retreat, this time flying solo. The official reason for my trip is so I can work on my book. And I will. So far, however, I’ve written a journal entry, a couple of poems, a note back home to Cindy Lou, this blog entry; taken a bunch of pictures; and napped a couple of times.

I first thought I would title this entry ‘Quiet,‘ in honor of the Sangre de Cristo mountains just overhead. As I write this mid-afternoon Mountain time, however, sitting just inside my hermitage’s open window, the whistle of wind picking up through piñon pine reminds me it is this sound, for one, that makes this native Ohioan long for time in the mountains. It is so lovely! True, I can hear similar zephyrs on my back porch at home on a breezy fall afternoon, but witnessing the live music of wind and pine needle in the shadow of Kit Carson Peak reaches deeper into my core. It’s part of the retreat I so love to come up here for.

I drove the 1300 miles from Dayton to the Colorado front range in three days, making stopovers in Topeka and Pueblo. Yesterday about noon, when I headed up over the pass into the San Luis valley from Poncha Springs, I was struck by the yellow of the season-changing aspen leaves cast against the still deep green of neighboring conifers. Higher in the pass, aspen leaves were down. Winter is nearer there.

But no new snow in the mountains. Summer’s heat depleted the Sangre de Cristos of all of last winter’s remnants. I remember when I hiked here in July 2009, snow was still evident from the valley below. Not a whole lot, but some. By fall 2010, all snow had melted off.

Still, nights are getting colder here. Last week when I checked Crestone weather, lows were predicted in the mid-30s. Though highs were predicted in the sunny 70s, I expected to see frost sometime during my stay and looked forward to a morning fire in the hermitage stove.

One never knows how much rain one will experience in the desert foothills, here, just a dozen or so miles north of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Last night, as I looked west across the valley toward the darkened San Juans maybe 80 miles off, lightning flashed over the distant peaks. Hours later after I went to bed, rain hit the hermitage roof hypnotically. As Thomas Merton observed, It is important to listen to the language of rain on the roof. It seemed more like music to me.

And then this morning, while taking my first look east up into the 14,000 feet peaks, the first of winter’s snow was evident in the higher elevations. Wow, I thought. So special!

I hope this to be a good omen for my writing.


For more information on the Nada Hermitage -- an absolutely beautiful place for a multi-week retreat for whatever reason you can conjure -- see

You could come! ;-)

Today’s elder idea: If we skip discipline, an unfruitful looseness and lethargy result. If we leave ourselves wide open, we will never find our way to genuine freedom.

from ‘The Value of Discipline’

Spiritual Life Institute

Nada Hermitage