Lessons from the Wild

My book group just finished reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I found it disturbing, frustrating and beautiful, in that order. Wild is an autobiography of a woman who does a solo hike across the Pacific Coast Trail. As Cheryl nears the end of her journey along the PCT, she encounters Crater Lake, whose creation story is a perfect metaphor for what has happened in her life and so many of our own.

Mount Mazama was located in the Cascade Mountain Range in Oregon. At one point it had reached almost 12,000 feet high. It was a natural skyscraper: beautiful, majestic, impressive. Only the ancient Klamath tribes of that area ever witnessed how it towered over its neighboring peaks, like Mount Washington, Jefferson and Hood.

Up until 8,000 years ago, the presence of Mount Mazama was a fact of the skyline, a place you could count on to be there, like the Pacific Ocean, the Rocky Mountains, the nose on the end of your face.

It was there for hundreds of thousands of years, and then one day, it wasn’t.

Underneath its purple mountain’s majesty was a seething mass of heat, a cauldron of change, an eruption waiting to happen.

Mount Mazama wasn’t just a mountain after all. It was a volcano and when it erupted, what had been permanent was gone. What had been high was made lower than low. It wasn’t just leveled. It was cratered out.

The native peoples must have wept and trembled for what had been, for what they had seen, and for all that had been lost in the cataclysmic change.

How long did it take their eyes to adjust to the emptiness that had once been something? How long did it take them to pick up the pieces? How long did they look with disdain at the wound that had once been their mountain?

But the death of the mountain isn’t the end of the story, not for Mazama, not for Cheryl Strayed and not for you and me.

Invitations keep showing up in my mental mailbox these days to see changes in my life with a new set of eyes. The pattern of Mount Mazama keeps repeating itself over and over again.

What we think is the ending, is just a new beginning.

What we think is destruction is really a transition.

What we think is broken will be made whole again – not in the same form, but in some different and life-giving way.

The real bummer is that it takes longer than we want it too. We have to be patient. We have to wait. We have to hold on.

In my spiritual tradition, we talk a lot about the three days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Even Rob Bell, who I saw at a conference this last week, emphasized how much patience and perseverance it takes to get from Friday to Sunday.  But I am not talking about three days here.

While “three days” are a great scriptural metaphor, they are a lousy model for how patient we actually need to be.

What changes in our lives actually resolve themselves in three days? For most of us, the disruptions in our lives take a lot longer than that to heal. For Cheryl, for you and me, it usually takes more like years to acknowledge and accept that what we thought was permanent was actually a passing formation.

But if it takes years, we’re still lucky. It took centuries for Mount Mazama to become Crater Lake.

When the holy mountaintop blew up, all that was left was a sharp-edged, gaping crater. But season after season, year after year, the caldera started to fill with rain and snowpack and spring melts. Centuries later, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America at 1,900 feet and one of the deepest in the world. It is so deep that it absorbs every other color but blue.

I have never seen it, but I will take Cheryl’s word for it as she gazed upon the silence and stillness of the water, that it is a beautiful, sacred center, found in nature, in her and in all of us: “what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turn into after the healing begins.”

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5 thoughts on “Lessons from the Wild

  1. I have been privileged to visit Crater Lake on a couple of occasions….it is amazing! I had forgotten the story of its origin, and it is a gift to relearn here.

  2. I just finished this book this very morning! As Peanut and I hiked the canyon this morning, I was channeling Cheryl and thinking about the rugged terrain with the weight of “Monster” on her hips…I was left with the realization that it is the journey and not the destination…one day at a time…let go and let God.

  3. Thanks for reminding me to be patient for those changes! In July, 1981 we took a family trip in a motor home through the Pac NW and Crater Lake was one of those stops! I believe I have a photo of you in front of that beautiful, deep blue lake! You were only 9 so I don’t think it impressed you as much as it did Dad and me.

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